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Supporting terminally ill patients & those who care for them

Helpful information

The value of touch

Palliative care is focused on comfort. Touch is a powerful way of enhancing physical and emotional comfort for the dying person. It says “I am here, I care about you, you are not alone”. Regardless of the role you play to the dying person, there will be an opportunity to contribute to the people you come across in a way that is simple but can have a profound effect.

But how do we do this mindfully, safely and with compassion?

#1 Know your own comfort level:
Figure out where you stand with touching, and only do what feels comfortable to you. Just like verbal language, touch varies from one culture to another, and between genders. Be acutely aware of respecting boundaries.

#2 Ask permission:
Simply ask. If the person is in a coma, or is confused, tell them what you are going to do first. Touch is comforting and breaks the sense of isolation of the one in altered consciousness. It acknowledges an awareness of the soul in a body that is near death.

#3 Get centered: Get yourself comfortable with the person. Pay attention to the person with your whole self. Don’t be distracted by technology, computers, cell phones etc.

#4 Simply touch:
While massage may be a good thing for the dying person, often what’s called for is a much more ordinary form of touch, like holding a hand, or a pat on the shoulder.

#5 Make touch a part of the routine:
Bathing, brushing hair, changing dressings, turning, transferring from bed to a chair, reading. . . these are all natural opportunities to mindfully touch.

#6 Touch with intention:
Touch from the heart, with dignity and respect.

#7 Touch with care: Being in pain, being fragile and frail is an issue for many of our patients, we are all are reluctant to cause pain by touching.

#8 Touch Safely:
Restrict touch to the hands, feet, shoulders, arms. Keep your touch away from central areas of the body, and from the head.

#9 Take your time:
Don’t rush. Rushing might not equate with genuineness.

#10 Keep on checking:
Keep on telling the person what you are going to do next, and keep on watching for responses, both verbal and non verbal.

#11 Teach others: The mandate for mindful touch comes from the family. Take all these suggestions from 1 – 10 and teach them to the family, caregivers and friends of the dying person.

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