Aging Parents: A Caring Touch

It’s so natural to cuddle babies. Dr. Spock wrote in the 1940’s, “when you hug him or make noises at him, when you show him that you think he’s the most wonderful baby in the world, it makes his spirit grow, just the way milk makes his bones grow.”

At the other end of the life cycle, do we nourish aging parents’ spirits?

How often do aging parents receive a hug, a kiss, an affectionate squeeze? How often are they touched in a caring way, a way that conveys affection, a way that conveys shared joy? (Do loyal grandparents who attend every athletic competition get high-fives or a hug from jubilant grandchildren after the game?)

When parents can grow old together caring touches undoubtedly continue; but what about elderly parents who are living alone either because they never married or have lost their spouse?

I pose this question in the introduction to the “self-esteem section” in my yet-to-be-published book. And then, this past week, NY Times published an article, in the Health/Mind category, Evidence That Little Touches Do Mean So Much.

While we realize some older people do remarry, in so many families there will be elderly family members, living alone for whom the warmth generated from a touch by children, nieces, nephews and other caring people will be in short supply.

Yet the Times article adds another aspect, telling us that the body interprets a supportive touch as “I’ll share the load.” This is the signal we get from a caring, affirming touch.

In sum, a caring touch can be a very positive, meaningful gesture for aging parents…a gesture in which all family members (and caring friends) can participate in order to add another ingredient to helping older parents age well.

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