By Dr. Warren J. Winkelman, Nestlé Skin Health SHIELD
“We should all remember the power of touch — simple human contact — can communicate caring better than words.”
-Dr. Barbara L. McAneny, President, American Medical Association
Sophisticated digital health technologies are undeniably transforming and rapidly expanding our ability to provide the very best and most personalized care. But, as peoples’ lives become more dependent on cutting-edge high tech, we should not forget about seemingly low-tech tools at our disposal, like the incredible power of human touch.
Connection conveyed through touch remains one of the most impactful yet undervalued elements of the care armamentarium. Empathic touch can be transformational, whether delivered by a physician or a family caregiver. In fact, touch remains one of the most empowering means for caregivers to protect and optimize the wellbeing of their care recipients.
By 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will be over 65 years of age, which will increase the burden on lay caregivers. In fact, about 34.2 million Americans currently provide unpaid care to an adult aged 50 or older. This is why Nestle Skin Health SHIELD has collaborated with the Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA) and the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) to empower caregivers. Our Power of Touch initiative, which we recently launched with a weeklong social media campaign, highlights ways we can support the health and wellbeing of caregiver and charge alike — and it all starts with a simple touch.
Healthy skin indicates a healthy body, and changes in the skin are often the first sign that there is a problem with our internal health. Tending to the skin of a care recipient — through gentle bathing, moisturizing, and sun protection, for example — allows us to physically connect and therefore meaningfully monitor what is going on with our loved ones’ physical health.
In carrying out these deceptively simple routines, we provide for the care recipient’s emotional health as well. Statistics have shown that loneliness increases the likelihood of mortality by 26%, comparable to the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity and smoking. Through acts of gentle physical touch integrated into the daily care routine, caregivers mitigate the sense of loneliness and despair that many infirm people feel. Recent clinical studies demonstrate that intentional therapeutic and compassionate touch improves pain, decreases anxiety and increases comfort for care recipients in multiple healthcare settings, such as dementia care, neurological wards, neonatal care units and nursing homes. Professional caregivers have been implementing touch routinely to improve outcomes for a myriad of ailments with important emotional sequelae, including acute wounds, anorexia nervosa, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Touch has demonstrated positive impact on caregiver psychosocial wellbeing as well. Not all caregivers possess “professional” certification, but we all possess the capacity to touch. In the scientifically complex, high tech driven world of healthcare, we often overlook and sometimes even devalue laypersons’ contributions. Working with GCOA and NAC, SHIELD hopes to promote caregiver empowerment and better health outcomes with tools that exist at the very tips of the fingers!
Indeed, touch costs nothing yet can yield reward for both caregiver and charge. It may very well provide one of the highest returns on investment in healthcare today.
Warren J. Winkelman is the Senior Medical Director and Head of Medical Innovation for Nestlé Skin Health SHIELD, and one of the founding members of the Global Coalition on Aging.