Importance of Hugs and “Love You’s” for Older, Hospitalized Adults
(Seems obvious, doesn’t it)
“Hugs” and “Love You”–two expressions generously shared these days.They make us feel valued, nurture our souls, support emotional and physical well being. They’re exchanged countless times by friends and family in our younger years, lessening in old age, and problematical for hospitalized elders and those who love them, especially at life’s end.
Much is written about what to do and say when a loved one’s life nears its end. (See “Related” below); but hospitalized elderly have a not-written-about reality that impacts our caregiving connection. Specifically the intrusion of hospital routines, physical barriers, and lack of privacy. These issues are rarely–if ever–addressed, although the specific nextavenue link below seems to have overcome the problem–or just neglects to address it in its useful, heartfelt article.
Hospitalization makes hugs and personal sharing tricky. Aides come in to draw a drop of blood and take temperatures numerous times daily. Physical barriers exist between us and the person in bed. IV poles, monitors, drips, lines, tray tables, night stands–and those bed rails–defy making easy physical contact….unless one has super-long arms or is a contortionist. Hospital regulations, loss of privacy and constant interruptions interfere with that special, loving connection we ideally want with our love ones. And touching is a powerful part.
In hospital nurseries babies are held and cuddled, no doubt infusing warmth, security, and a feeling of being cared about. But adult hospital patients in private rooms or with roommates lack the equivalent–be it a kiss, hug, a hand to hold, or a gentle massage. A kind of physical–if not mental–isolation results, whether patients are in private rooms or have roommates. No wonder people want to die at home.
According to the 2015 National Health Statistic Report more than 80% of Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and over would want to die at home. However “in 2013, one-third of 1,904,640 deaths among persons aged 65 and over in the United States occurred in the hospital, about the same proportion as in the previous 12 years.”.
The Question: How do we convey our love and caring to one restricted to a hospital bed?
Giving my mother over to the hospital:
I’d forgotten–or perhaps repressed–the feeling until I was back in the hospital with my husband. I’d forgotten how hard it was to give my mother a hug when her small body lay in that wide bed with bed rails up to keep her safe. I forgot how ludicrous I thought it was when elderly people are so weak they need help to turn over, yet have bed’s rails blocking access.
So here’s the recipe to combat that isolation and bring some normalcy and love into the equation:
1. Learn how to lower the bed rail on the side you’re on (and remember to put it up when you leave).
2. Sit on the bed if that puts you closer to hug, kiss, or simply hold or pat a hand.
3. If small grandchildren are permitted and can follow instructions, why not let them climb on the bed, crawl around, kiss and hug. If pets are allowed, so much the better, but have we ever seen a pet in the hospital unless it’s a therapy dog—but hey! Doesn’t “therapy dog” say something about contact between beings?
4. Today some hospitals provide chairs that make into beds for spending the night with a loved one. But the space between the newly-fashioned bed and the hospital bed can feel like the great divide. Again, lower the bed rail and scoot the newly-created bed right up to the hospital bed. Hospital beds can be raised and lowered so both are at more-or-less the same level….and if not the same level, get some pillows to fill gaps as a way of transitioning to the hospital bed’s lower or higher position.
5. Learn how to lower or raise the hospital bed.
Lastly, as we keep in mind that older people, who no longer have a spouse, don’t get many sincere, loving words or touches any more–unless from grandchildren–it makes sense to remember that the simple “Love You” when family and visitors leave can be an empty phrase. Perhaps good-byes that are upbeat and forward-looking—like “You’re the best….” or “See you tomorrow (fill in the day–it’s something to look forward to) can be added.
Related: next/avenue has done a series of articles on our subject over the last few months. “How to Be Present With One Who is Sick or Dying really “gets it,”
The Power of Touch: https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201303/the-power-touch
USA Today: Hugs Warm the Heart. concludes with Ohio State University psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser quoted as saying “Although ours is a youth-oriented culture, older adults may benefit most from touch. “The older you are, the more fragile you are physically, so contact becomes increasingly important for good health.”
Huffington Post: 7 Reasons Why We Should be Giving More Hugs.” Read “Adults Can Benefit from Hugging the Most” which concludes “…Studies have shown that loneliness, particularly with age, can also increase stress and have averse health effects. By hugging someone, we instantly feel closer to that person and decrease feelings of loneliness.” This latter link lends validity to the loneliness aspect.
Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.