A Hug Says It All

Never underestimate the power of a hug:

–Hugs make us feel important, wanted, and loved.

–Hugs heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger.

–Hugs release tension throughout the body, by relaxing muscles and increasing circulation that helps to soothe many aches and pains.

Psychotherapist Virginia Satir has said “We need 4 hugs a day for survival.  We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance.  We need 12 hugs a day to thrive.”  How Dr. Satir arrived at this calculation is unknown. Perhaps this “hug threshold” allows the body to produce sufficient amounts of oxytocin. Oxytocin, manufactured in the pituitary gland, is a naturally occurring hormone with incredibly powerful, health-giving properties released by the body in response to physical touch.

If the minimum number of hugs suggested by Dr. Satir is necessary for an otherwise healthy individual to thrive, consider how many someone living with Alzheimer’s must need. 

It is important to remember that we can telegraph our caring and love for someone living with Alzheimer’s, or dementia, with a simple, heartfelt hug. Communication with body language—especially touch—is easily understood, even as other language skills, like interpreting word meaning or following a conversation, progressively become more difficult.  Touch is reassuring when so much feels uncertain.

The best way to give an “Alzheimer’s hug” is to first face the person directly.  Approaching from behind, without offering a visual cue of your presence, can be frightening. Be sure your hug is of sufficient length—seven seconds is a good rule of thumb.  This is long enough that your loved one gets the message of your caring intention.

The therapeutic effect to be gained from a good hug should not be underestimated.  Don’t limit yourself!  Each hug, starting right now, has a lasting impact that just gets better and better.