There are days and times when you simply don't know what to do… you don't know how to support someone who is upset. You don't know what to say when someone asks if there is anything they can do to help you.

If you have a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer's, there will be many, many times where you simply don't know what to do… might I recommend a HUG?

It may seem simple and to some it may seem a little touchy-feely but there are many proven health benefits of hugging. What's even better is that hugging requires no special equipment, it isn't location-specific and it doesn't take much time. But a heart-felt hug can change everything for both the giver and the receiver!

As dementia and Alzheimer's progresses, the person's ability to communicate verbally decreases but they still need and benefit from physical touch and they can still feel the love you give through your hug. It's important to continue to hold their hand, and hug them, so they feel connected and cared for.

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Here are 5 Health Benefits of Hugging

  1. Release Tension – hugging relaxes our muscles and decreases tension you may not even know you are holding in your body. Have you ever noticed that when you hug someone there is often a sigh and release, however subtle, that accompanies it? (Unless you really don’t want to hug the person but in these examples, we are assuming the hug is a good thing!)
  2. Increase Bonding – Hugging releases oxytocin in the brain which is a feel-good, bonding chemical. If you aren’t feeling as connected and you want to someone or want to keep the love alive, hug more often and hold the hug a little longer!
  3. Strengthen Your Immune System – Gentle pressure on the sternum stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates and balances the body’s production of white blood cells, which help you stay healthy and disease free.
  4. Sleep Better – Hugging lowers your cortisol levels (a stress hormone) which is often believed to affect the quality of sleep.
  5. Decrease Stress – Hugging makes you feel better!  Have you ever been stressed out and there really isn’t anything anyone can do to fix the situation immediately, but a hug can go a long way to making you feel better? That’s because of the released tension, oxytocin increase in the brain, decrease of cortisol and just feeling like someone cares.

There is apparently a catch – to get the above benefits and more of hugging, it can’t be a quick “hey, great to see you” slap on the back faux hug – it needs to be a “good hug” – I’m told that means at least 15-20 seconds.

One of my missions is to help family caregivers stay connected with their loved ones by helping them understand the changes that are occurring and giving them new ways of interacting.

While no one can change the outcome of Dementia or Alzheimer's, with the right help you can change the journey.

– Tara Reed