The Importance of Physical Intimacy for the Elderly

Intimacy, that closeness and familiarity that is the hallmark of love and friendship, is critical for humans from the time we are born and our mothers cradle us in their arms. As we age, our need for physical intimacy doesn’t diminish. In fact, for those elderly who require more advanced care, their need for friends and family to express physical intimacy may increase. As the health of your elderly loved one declines they may be more isolated and physically unable to reach out and express their love physically—they need you more and more to reach out to them.

Physical touch and intimacy can strengthen us physically and emotionally. Research is showing that regular, intimate touch can build our brains, muscles, bones, cardiovascular system, and immune systems. As caregivers, family, and friends of the elderly, we have the immense power to help those we care for with a loving and friendly touch.

How to Promote Physical Intimacy

Direct Intimacy—All of us appreciate the warm hug of a friend or holding the hand of someone we love. When you are with your loved one, remember to take time to give them that extra hug. Watch for opportunities to embrace them.

Indirect Intimacy—Helping an aging loved one with personal care (such as brushing their hair) or assisting them as they stand and walk provides a great time to reach out to them with a loving touch. They may also greatly benefit from therapeutic touch such as massages and foot rubs.

Bring the Kids—Make sure that the kids in your life get a chance to express their love. In order to help your child overcome any fear they may have (a sick individual or the various medical paraphernalia may intimidate some children), bring them often to help them get used to the environment. The spontaneous and exuberant physical affection that many children have can be particularly uplifting.

Personal Attention—When talking with an elderly individual, face them directly to help convey your attention. Not only does this help assure them that you are engaged in the conversation, it also helps those with hearing problems.

Remember, through a simple, friendly, and loving touch we have the power to convey love, compassion, reassurance, and safety. As you care for and visit with the elderly individuals in your life, make a conscious effort to reach out to them in love.