Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Touch-a-touch-a-touch-a-touch…

Love the skin you’re in, so says the ad campaign.  The largest organ of the human body is the skin and touch is one of the first senses developed as an infant.  It’s also the last one to leave as we grow old.  Scientists say that touch plays a critical role in childhood development and happiness as adults.

Well, duh.

As a self-professed hugaholic (NOT in, or planning on, a recovery program any time soon either), today’s technological dependence is a bit unsettling to me.  If we don’t make an effort, we could go days without seeing or talking to another human being in person.  The thought makes me shudder, because I think I’d curl up and die without contact with something with a pulse after about three days.

Prior to WWII, during a visit to a children’s clinic in Dusseldorf, Germany, Dr. Fritz Talbot found that a baby’s ability to thrive had a lot to do with touch, when all other medical intervention had been exhausted.  As a result, in 1938 Bellvue Hospital instituted a “mothering” program where babies were to be picked up and touched, which resulted in the death rate falling from 35 percent to less than 10 percent.  Since that time, it has been proven that premature babies do better, with a 50% more daily gain in weight than babies who are untouched. 

Over the last 15 to 20 years, we have created a terribly touch-phobic world.  Teachers can no longer hug students and the old ruffling of an unknown child’s hair, once considered quaint and sweet, is now taboo.  Some therapists have said this anti-touch mentality has actually backfired, making kids more vulnerable to one who might hurt them, someone who offers them the affection that has been withheld from safer, more appropriate sources.  Sad, isn’t it? 

There was no controlled research needed to prove this next bit of information to me, but scientists have found that as adults, touch is incredibly important to our well-being.  A few years back, a study in Utah found that warm touch (the non hanky-panky, supportive kind) lowered stress levels and blood pressure, especially among men.  To put that in perspective, about 72 million people in the United States (fewer women than men) have high blood pressure – that’s approximately 1 in 3 adults.  Man, oh man alive, but a few hugs could go a long way toward preventative medicine.

Saddest of all, research has shown that senior citizens are touched the least of any age group, possibly due to the fact that seniors are more likely to live alone, with little interaction with friends or family members.  It has also been suggested by some, that touching an older person also has something to do with our society’s emphasis on young-looking skin and that older skin is unattractive and “untouchable” – oh, puh-leeze.  The fact that I could even dignify that by retyping it hurts my heart a little.  People?!  Get over yourselves!  You can stretch that skin all you want, creating the Joker’s frozen grin on every face over 40 that I see in the San Fernando Valley – but that doesn’t make me want to hug you more than a wrinkled man or woman with the evidence of long years of smiling crow’s feet around their eyes and a forehead filled with the lines of love and concern.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but every, every, every day I find that I need a hug.  Loving.  Touching.  Squeezing (I warned you – this next year the soundtrack in my mind is going to contain a whole lot of Steve Perry).  Even my daughter’s wacky cat qualifies at this point.  Kitty wants to snuggle?  Bring it on, fuzzball.  Even if it means extra vacuum time and unlimited lint rolling before I walk out of the house.  Loving.  Touching.  Squeezing.  Hairballs.  Oh, I’ll endure.  It’s all in the name of my improved physical, mental and emotional health.

Kissing is a horse of another color, which might require its own research program in 2011.  In the meantime, I’ll take all the hugs I can get – to keep me healthy every, every, every day.

Leave a Reply