Blog at MRC The Crossing Retirement Community in Lufkin, TX

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Are you touch deprived? How Senior Living communities are fighting back on "skin hunger."

Are you experiencing touch deprivation, also referred to as "skin hunger?"

According to a 2021 study, the recent rise in mental health concerns in America was greatly amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the new and unknown airborne virus was identified, the entire nation shutdown with people isolating in their homes and turning to virtual means for communication. In the process, the habits around physical touch seemed to change with 68% of Americans reporting feelings of touch deprivation in April of 2020. While this prolonged experience certainly moved the touch deprivation needle to an all-time high in the nation, some would say that the issue was always lying just under the surface for the average older American. Those living alone have always been more susceptible to feelings of touch deprivation, making the time of quarantine especially challenging.

Early on in the pandemic, scientists and wellness experts were cautioning the world on the possible negative outcomes for our society. At the time, the chief concern was avoiding the virus, but overtime, the phycological, intellectual, and emotional impact was becoming obvious. More and more Americans have been diagnosed with depression causing a record high with 3 out of 10 Americans now diagnosed with clinical depression.

In 1996, Bill Gates, was quoted in TIME magazine saying, "The internet is a revolution in communications that will change the world significantly. The Internet opens a whole new way to communicate with your friends and find and share information of all types. Microsoft is betting that the Internet will continue to grow in popularity until it is as mainstream as the telephone is today."

This prediction has certainly come true. The internet is not only popular in today's world, but it has also become a necessity. Americans of all ages are now dependent on carrying access to the interweb in their pocket, everywhere they go, with the improved technology of smart phones. Some would say it goes beyond necessity and is more aptly described as an addiction. For example, the average American touches their smart phone 2,617 time per day, spending and average of over 5 hours on the device.

In the midst of the pandemic however, the technology was a critical means to remain connected to the outside world. Many employees didn't return to the office after the time of quarantine ended because the advancement in technology made is possible to be productive from home with the use of video messaging for meetings. Families also turned to video calls as they were forced to forgo in-person visits. All in all, it seems new social habits have formed, with virtual communication becoming more dominant. Social media platforms have seemingly replaced the front porch or coffee shop style of connecting, and text messaging has replaced the voice-to-voice phone call. Slowly but surely, the world has moved into more isolating patterns, while oddly finding more progressive ways to connect. The irony is the technology that promises to help us "keep in touch" has somehow deprived us of touch along the way.

The power of human touch boils down to the stress hormone, cortisol. When one receives positive physical touch, the hormone oxytocin is released which pushes down cortisol levels. The overabundance of cortisol in the body suppresses the immune system, increasing the susceptibility to illness. Physical touch also allows our brain to experience increases in serotonin which ignites stronger feelings of happiness, comfort, and safety. Without the regular release of these important hormones, the brain is more likely to camp out in sadness or anxiety, while magnifying feelings of loneliness.

Highly popular family therapist, Virginia Satir famously said, "We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth." For an elder living alone, this is a challenge, even with the COVID-19 pandemic largely in the rearview. That's where senior living comes in as an excellent way to balance the ups and downs of aging.

Living in an Independent Living community can provide elders with a multitude of benefits to their wellbeing. In addition to the increased probability of receiving more hugs, pats on the back, or handshakes, these seniors are more likely to have stimulating conversation and opportunities to contribute to the needs of others which creates a sense of purpose. Compared to their peers living alone, these savvy seniors are better positioned to reap the many benefits of socialization, especially avoiding the all-too-common effects of "skin hunger." Those living in a senior living community are naturally more exposed to more opportunities to fight back on touch deprivation while also protecting the need for privacy.

While elders often consider a multitude of personal reasons for making such a move to an Independent Living community, touch deprivation is not usually one of them. Issues like home maintenance, future care, and socialization are the most common. The concept of touch deprivation is a lesser discussed concern that should be pulled to the forefront of these family discussions. Those who wish to age-well must consider all angles of their future emotional wellness as changes in health or mobility can create longer periods of isolation. With prolonged touch deprivation comes the near certainty of mood change, negative emotions, and eventually depression.

Older adults who wish to strike the right balance in their wellness routine should take strides to physically "keep in touch," while enjoying the many advancements that technology provides to "keep in touch." 

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MRC The Crossings Senior Living Discovery Arrow, League City, TX