It’s Not Just A Hug

It’s Not Just A Hug post page

By Dawn WigginsSeptember 14th, 2021

It’s Not Just A Hug

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by Dawn Wiggins, RPN,  

President and Director of Operations of New Dementians Professional Healthcare and PAC Certified Consultant, Trainer, Mentor, and Speaker

I am a hugger! I love giving and receiving hugs. I remember one day someone said, I am not a hugger at all, I don’t like it. In that moment I was shocked. How on earth can someone say such a thing. Working with Teepa and the PAC team, I have learned about people living with dementia, how their response to touch shifts with the progression of their dementia, and how personality types are different among us all. In retrospect, what I believe the person meant in that moment is that it wasn’t hugging they didn’t like, but rather they didn’t like hugs from people they didn’t feel safe with and trusted. So why would we need to consider personality traits of people living with dementia when we are providing care and go to offer a hug?

Is there a right way to hug? How many hugs a day do we need? How might this change for someone living with dementia and what are some possible alternatives?

Let’s look at the power of a hug. Hugs have been physiologically and psychologically proven to lower anxiety, blood pressure, and decrease the stress hormone norepinephrine, by releasing a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is often referred to as the cuddle or bonding hormone. By squeezing firm for 20 seconds, your body releases oxytocin and in turn, this helps deepen our bond with others. The squeeze is the secret ingredient. The deep pressure of the squeeze allows receptors to have the safety signal activated. Once the safety signal is activated, the amygdala is calmed and therefore, we do not get a fight, fright, or flight response.

So how many hugs are required to help? Family psychotherapist Virginia Satir affirmed that We need 4 hugs a day to survive, 8 hugs to maintain ourselves, and 12 hugs to grow. According to her, we need eight hugs a day to be happy, which would be a kind of hug therapy. How many of you can say you receive 12 hugs a day?

Wow, so hugs are amazing and can help us all, but in a world of pandemic protocols what do you think has happened to hugs? Fewer hugs equal less oxytocin, increased stress hormone, and now a much higher chance of people reacting and not able to respond in day-to-day events. We also know that as dementia progresses, parts of the brain do not work as well as they used to, but that darned amygdala stays strong long into the disease. How can we lower the stress hormone when we can’t hug?

Weighted blankets and vests have proven to offer the same proprioception that a deep hug offers and have been used as a method to reduce anxiety for people. One company I found created a HUG device that offers hugs and allows the person to hug back. Another option is the children’s book, 12 Hugs to Happiness by Forrest Willett. These options are a nice alternative but nothing can truly replace the power of a great hug.

There is always a way to give and receive hugs and now we know the benefits, the right way to hug, and how many hugs are required. How are you going to ensure you are getting your 12 hugs a day?

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