The Power of Touch When Visiting a Parent with Dementia

By Tiffany Cloud-Mann, M.Ed.

Photo by Seth Hays on Unsplash

Many family members tell us they struggle with what to do when visiting a loved one with dementia.  They may not have all their facts straight, but you don’t want to argue with them.  They are easily distracted and can become agitated.  Their attention span is short so staying a long time feel awkward.  So how can you get the most out of visits? Sometimes, it’s as simple as a touch.

It’s Personal

Some of us are “touchy feely” people and others are not. I think I am somewhere in between. It seems to me we start to identify ourselves as one or the other by the time we enter the workforce, if not sooner. The jobs we choose or how we interact in our jobs may reflect our style. As well, our interactions with others in our day to day activities reveal to us our need for touch. Whether we like to initiate a hug or just a hand shake or categorize ourselves as a “touchy feely” person, most all of us get a warm feeling inside when a person that we are connected to shows us affection.

The affection category has a wide range of words that fall under it. It may mean a hug, holding a hand or, I think, even looking someone in the eye with a genuine gaze. When you think about our need to connect with others and trust them, it starts with touch. This need is met, for example day one of life, when placing a newborn baby skin to skin with their parents directly after leaving their mother’s womb. This can also be seen farther along in life’s journey, if dementia sets in, a gentle touch may tell the person affected that they can trust someone even when they may not understand what the person is communicating. I am not a neurologist, but when a loving touch is involved, I can promise you there are some feel good feelings happening in the brain.

When you think about that even a failing brain can feel love– that is pretty amazing.

At no fault of our own, when dementia sets in, we often forgot what made our loved one their unique self.  Things like their careers accomplishments, their sense of humor or that which connected us together seems to fade. It’s tough to not focus on the terrible disease that will steal them from us or feel as if they are already gone.

Photo by Jake Thacker on Unsplash

As we unintentionally identify them with the disease, we may also begin to subconsciously forget their need for connection and touch. It’s tough. The somewhat ironic thing is, they need our love and connection now more than ever.

Families who have a member affected by dementia will have to adjust to an ever changing normal as the disease progresses. They will be charged with finding new ways of connecting with their loved one. The Alzheimer’s Association gives some good examples of connecting through the five senses: touch, sight, sound, smell and taste.

Your On-site Connection When You’re Far Away

A big part of everyday tasks in my profession as a Care Manager and Advocate, is looking at the whole person and providing “care” as I manage their needs. As many caregivers live long distance today or are managing their own immediate family’s needs, Care Managers come in to fill the gaps and connect with our clients at every interaction. We gain trust with our clients by offering a gentle touch and provide a connection with them that they may not be getting otherwise. This genuine connection allows us to begin to intuitively understand our client’s physical, mental and emotional needs, which could possibly keep them out of the hospital or in a state of crisis. Physical and mental health are number one in my opinion for good emotional health, but emotional health shouldn’t be neglected just because the other two seem okay. Care Managers connect with their clients regularly, to investigate all their needs. This allows the caregiver to connect as the daughter, son, wife, husband, sister, brother, or friend that they are supposed to be, because they aren’t boggled down with all the other details that involve caregiving. Care Managers also provide peace of mind— I dare to say it’s a priceless feeling.

So, I encourage you at your next visit with your loved one, look past the dementia or whatever lens may be causing you to see them differently, and find ways to connect with them. Contact LifeLinks in Nashville or Raleigh for assistance with this. We can help you find new ways to connect with them, and we look forward to those connections too!


One comment on “The Power of Touch When Visiting a Parent with Dementia

  1. Susie Roehrig on

    Very touching. Very well written. Gave me lots to think about. …things that are very simple to do but yet can make a huge difference to someone. ?


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