Feb 8, 2015

A Hug Says It All – 5 Reasons to Hug Your Loved One as Often as Possible

By Marie Marley
 Alzheimer's Reading Room

A Hug Says It All

One day when I was visiting Ed, Angel, one of the best aides in the nursing home, came in to see him. “I was just wondering if you need anything,” she said.

What a wonderful facility, I thought.

Then she sat down beside Ed on the sofa and put her arm around his shoulder. I was touched by this gesture.

He responded by reaching up and gently stroking her long blond hair, which cascaded down to her shoulders. It was an innocent gesture which, nonetheless, would have gotten him fired in his previous profession as a university professor of French.

I was mesmerized as I watched them.
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The staff at the facility were often openly demonstrative with the residents and Angel was one of the most affectionate of all. Ed’s mouth transformed into a lovely smile and I could tell by the expression on his face that her hug made him feel good.

My last article published here talked about the benefits of smiling. This one discusses the benefits of hugging.

Virgina Satir, quoted in an article by Toni Agnesi, once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” If we need that many hugs just think how many a person with Alzheimer’s must need.

Bob DeMarco, in Touching and Smiling, published here on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, wrote, “We really can’t live well without touch. Plus, touch is a very powerful form of communication. It has a name – tactile communication. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a touch must be worth two thousand for a person who is deeply forgetful.”

Agnesi writes, “Hugs make us feel important, wanted, and loved. Who can resist the hugs of a child or grandchild, burying themselves in your arms? He continues by stating, “A hug is more powerful than a thousand words!”

(OK, so Bob and Agnesi don’t agree on how many thousand words a hug is worth, but they do agree that it’s at least a thousand.)

But what does the research say about this topic? Does it affirm that touch, including touch in the form of hugs, is really beneficial?

An NIH article reports on the largest published study on therapeutic touch. The study’s abstract states, “Outcomes from this continuous quality improvement (CQI) clinical study suggest that therapeutic touch . . . promotes comfort, calmness, and well-being. In addition, patients are highly satisfied with therapeutic touch.”

Marcus Felicetti published an article on the MindBodyGreen website that reviews the scientific research on the benefits of touch. He cites findings of the various research studies on which he reports. I’ll present five of the most important ones here:
  1. Hugs can instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger.
  2. Holding a hug for an extended time lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness.
  3. Hugs strengthen the immune system. The gentle pressure on the sternum and the emotional charge this creates activates the solar plexus chakra. This stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, which keep you healthy and disease free.
  4. Hugging relaxes muscles. Hugs release tension in the body. Hugs can take away pain; they soothe aches in increasing circulation into the soft tissues.
  5. Hugs balance out the nervous system. The galvanic skin response of someone receiving and giving a hug shows a change in skin conductance. The effect in moisture and electricity in the skin suggests a more balanced state in the nervous system.
Unfortunately I didn’t pay that much attention to touching Ed when he had Alzheimer’s even though it was perfectly clear from his behavior that he yearned for touch. As I recount in my uplifting book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy, just one of many examples is that he would hold the hands of his visitors, even the male ones, throughout their visits. It seemed to bring him comfort and peace.


In fact, my failure to hold Ed’s hand or hug him is one of my greatest regrets about my time as a caregiver. I only wish I had it all to do over again. I’d hug him at every visit.

Do any of you make an effort to hug your loved one on a regular basis? 

If so, how does it make you feel and how does it appear to affect the person you’re hugging?

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