THE BLOG
08/05/2014 05:33 am ET | Updated Sep 25, 2014

People With Alzheimer's May Yearn to Be Touched

A stunning video shows Sol Rogers interacting with his wife, Rita, who has Alzheimer's and was unable to talk or walk. He got in bed with her, cuddled with her, kissed her and told her repeatedly how much he loved her. As the months went by Rita improved significantly.

Research has consistently shown that touch can be beneficial to people living with Alzheimer's. For example, the CNN video describes a study done by researchers at UCLA, who studied the physiologic effect of touch. They concluded that touch can dampen symptoms of the disease. Specifically, they found that it decreases stress, increases the relaxation response and decreases anxiety.

An article by D. L. Wood and M. Diamond, published in the journal, Biological Research Nursing, discusses a study in which subjects with Alzheimer's received treatment with therapeutic touch for five to seven minutes twice a day for three days. There was a significant decrease in overall agitated behavior and in two specific behaviors - vocalization and pacing or walking - during treatment and 11 days of a post-treatment period.

Another article, by Rand L. Griffin and Evelyn Vitro, published in the American Journal of Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias, presented results of an observational study conducted at the Alzheimer's Resource Center of Connecticut. The study found that:

"following treatments of therapeutic touch, patients demonstrated visible signs of well-being and relaxation - often leading to sleep. Staff also found therapeutic touch a way to positively forge emotional connections with patients who are verbally uncommunicative and who suffer from varying degrees of dementia."

Teepa Snow, nationally renowned expert on Alzheimer's Disease, has seen the same results in people living with Alzheimer's. This was described in my previous article, "Can People With Alzheimer's Still Enjoy Life?"

Ms. Snow has developed what she calls Senior Gems, a system for classifying people with dementia. It consists of six categories, each named after a gem. Her gems table shows the basic characteristics of people at each level and provides tips for interacting with them.

Pearls are at the latest stage of the disease. According to the table, two of several ways to reach Pearls are to brush their hair and apply lotion to their skin.

Further, when I interviewed Ms. Snow she said there are different types of touch. "Light, moving touch is stimulating; deep, slow touch is calming." She added that you should always get verbal or non-verbal permission before touching a person with dementia. Some people with Alzheimer's do not like to be touched.

In my personal experience with Ed, my Romanian life partner, he became more physically affectionate as his disease advanced and his inhibition decreased proportionately. He often held hands with visitors all throughout their visits - even men. This appeared to be very natural.

Ed and I had not typically touched each other very much, and I didn't pick up on his need to be touched when he had Alzheimer's. I rarely touched him. This was one of my biggest regrets as his caregiver. I only wish I could do it all over again.

So if you aren't regularly expressing affection by touching your loved one with Alzheimer's, try it the next time you are with him or her. You may be pleasantly surprised at the response you get.

Has anyone received a positive reaction to the use of touch? Care to share with us?

Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website (ComeBackEarlyToday.com) contains of wealth of information for Alzheimer's caregivers.