THE STRENGTH OF CONTACT IN FRAILTY
Could contact be an effective possibility to better live the relationship with a person living with dementia?
Absolutely yes, but it is not enough to say that contact can be a road, we must also define the way.
When glances meet, a fundamental characteristic sprouts: reciprocity.
Eyes are not just a place where we meet, but it is an opportunity that leaves space for existence.
Through our eyes we can communicate beyond words and we can recognize ourselves in a “feeling” that goes beyond understanding.
Contact does not only include the visual one, but it is also possible to open new ways of meeting through the touch.
These lines do not want to deepen the touch intended as a gesture accomplished in everyday actions, that goal-oriented action without awareness and attention, but want to be an opportunity to know the touch as a simple and powerful tool, as well as to know the its benefits within the care relationship.
The Contact is clearly expressed within the Sente-Mente® Project: the relationship that is established with the fragile person, and not only, needs to be more humanized.
That’s why the importance of looking, of the conscious touch lived with grace and kindness.
But what’s so special about touch? Reciprocity can not be touched without being touched.
Touch is a powerful communication channel (Gallace and Spence, 2010) and plays an important role in fostering our state of emotional well-being (Field, 2014) and in the possibility of perceiving ourselves.
The skin is the most extensive sensorial channel we have and it is the first sense we develop and the last we lose. We can therefore consider contact a channel of encounter, even emotional, which goes beyond the limits and barriers of the disease, such as dementia.
One of the key features for a conscious touch is to live the present moment, then lead into the “here and now” to get in touch and knock on the doors of the heart.
CONTACT: I FEEL ALIVE
When we welcome or caress someone’s hand, the person who is touched can also feel all our emotions, brutality or sweetness, feelings and intentions. This is what makes the sense of touch rich (Savatofski, 2009).
We make the real difference in the way we come into contact, it is not just physical touch, but it is that conception understood also as recognition of the existence of the other.
Before living the touch we need to ask ourselves “how do I feel now?” And consequently ask ourselves also “what do I want to make happen?”. In the moment in which we enter into a relationship through contact we do not underestimate our responsibility, respect and dignity of the other person.
It is time to live a contact that creates well-being and improves the quality of life, in fact it has been shown how the positive contact reduces the frequency of the heartbeat (Labyak and Metzeger, 1997), slow breathing (Wang and Keck, 2004 ) and improve the efficiency of the immune system (Mower, 1999). It has also been shown that touching someone with a sense of appreciation and kindness causes the synchronization of the brain and heart waves of that person with those of the one who touches it.
With the conscious contact, experienced with delicacy, grace and kindness, the levels of some hormones important for our well-being, such as endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin, also increase.
These hormones play an important role in the onset of emotional reactions and in their regulation.
Specifically, oxytocin, a molecule released into the blood by the hypophysis, has a prominent importance in the mechanisms of trust and can inhibit negative emotions.
HOW CHANGE THE INSTANT
Even just three minutes a day of conscious touch, they can create calm, reduce anxiety and increase the feeling of being loved.
Bruna lives with dementia and for days, due to a strong inflammation of the urinary tract, she spends time in bed, waiting for the therapy to take effect quickly. Bruna no longer uses the language of words for several years, but with her voice she can hardly make her feel pain and tired. Bruna’s breathing is accelerated and often interrupted by pain. I choose to bring my awareness on how I feel now and I wonder what I want to make happen. After a few deep breaths, I rub my hands to make them warmer and more welcoming, I approached slowly, making me see, I meet her gaze and sit down next to her. I open the palm of my hand and after a few moments she squeezes my hand hard. After about a minute I started with the other hand to make my heat feel and my “I’m here for you”. We experienced ten minutes of hand massage, perhaps predictable and repeated, but above all filled with grace, kindness and humanity. Bruna shared a sigh of relief and then breathe more and more deeply and after having relaxed her hands, she surrendered to a sweet and restorative afternoon nap.