Perhaps you are wondering whether there is anything you can do to help your dying friend or relative feel better. The answer is yes! You can give them the gift of touch. I will help you understand how you can give them loving care that will feel good and will bring you closer together during this difficult time.
Is it okay to touch people who are dying or near death? It surely is! It can help them feel that they are cared about. It can help them feel human connection. It can help them feel closer to a loved one. Also kind, gentle touch or massage just plain feels good!
1. What Are The Benefits Of Touch?
Patients who receive touch often feel more relaxed and less anxious. When the skin is touched lovingly, it sends messages to the brain and the nervous system becomes more calm. Sometimes patients require less pain medication. They often sleep better and more deeply. Touch is a necessary and needed part of the human experience all the way from birth to death. As a massage/touch therapist for hospice, I have been in many hospital rooms and watched families interact with their relatives who are dying. More often than not, they do not touch. This makes me sad. They are afraid or tentative but you need not be. Or perhaps they are a family who simply does not know how to touch.
Responses When Patients Receive A Touch
- They may smile, relax, and breathe more deeply.
- They may close their eyes or even fall asleep.
- All of these are good reactions; they indicate comfort.
Can anyone apply touch or massage? Absolutely. You don’t need any special training. You just need to be thoughtful and considerate and listen to the words or body language of the patient.
How Should You Offer The Gift Of Touch To A Patient?
Approach them with love. Smile. If a person has dementia, they can be easily confused but when you show them your smiling face, they understand that you are not angry with them. Many people with dementia are not sure who I am when I come to them. They often think that I must be a forgotten relative because I am being nice to them and smiling, looking into their eyes and “petting” them. And it’s okay with me if they mistake me for someone who loves them because we are all relatives after all.
2. What Are The Best Ways To Apply Touch?
- If your loved one is awake and alert, you may wish to start touching them by placing your hand gently on their shoulder or head.
- You might brush their hair from their brow a few times.
- Approach them gently and kindly with smooth, fluid movements.
- Jerky movements are alarming and not comforting and your goal is to comfort so move smoothly.
When someone is confused from pain medication or has dementia I like to start to touch them by placing my hand on their hand. I can lightly wrap my fingers and palm around their hand and lower arm and squeeze a little. Just a little because they may have painful joints.
Steps To Practice On Your Own Arm
- Wrap one hand around your lower arm at the wrist.
- Your fingers will probably not touch your thumb.
- Now, gently squeeze your arm and “walk” your hand up toward your elbow.
- And “walk” it back down to your wrist.
Easy, right? And it feels good? The idea is to get a rhythm going because rhythm is soothing. Think of rocking a baby. That’s rhythm. You might even find yourself rocking slightly back and forth as you work your rhythm magic.
You can also use slightly warmed oil or lotion, especially if skin is fragile, and gently rub their fingers, hand and arm. Use enough lotion for easy glide but don’t drown them in it. You can warm oil or lotion by simply holding it in your palm for a few moments. If you rub in the same location over and over, it can be really annoying or even uncomfortable. Your goal is to use that rhythm to move from area to area rather than staying in only one area. Some people may prefer to have their feet and lower legs massaged lightly. Some may prefer a back rub. With practice, you will become more and more comfortable giving touch and your loved ones will enjoy seeing you even more!
3. Points To Remember When Applying Touch
Is it possible that someone will reject your offering of touch? Yes. Sometimes this happens because the loved one is confused or in too much discomfort. And some people just don’t care to be touched. And that’s okay. They may allow you to just hold their hand or to just sit near them. Any type of loving touch is a form of communication, and in the end communication is important.