Hope on the Horizon for Seniors Who Have Lost Their Sense of Touch

When it comes to social situations, the primary purpose of touch is to forge trust and cooperation, the Huff Post reports. Research has found that players on sports teams who celebrate with touch such as high fives and pats on the back tend to perform better, while studies have also shown that in a romantic relationship, touch (both sexual and non-sexual) is enormously important.

As we age, our sense of touch often declines due to skin changes and reduced circulation. Loss of sensation can be caused by a complication of diabetes called peripheral neuropathy. This is a type of nerve damage. Other conditions that may cause loss of feeling are stroke, spinal cord injury, tumors and infections. People with arthritis or vascular disease may face additional challenges and limitations, the University of Cincinnati Center for Aging with Dignity reports.

The risks:

Experts reveal the following additional risks associated with loss of touch:

  • Less sensitivity to temperatures such as hot and cold water.
  • Decline in small motor skills, which can make such tasks as opening a jar or handling silverware more challenging.
  • Those who are unaware of their diminished sense of touch could unintentionally injure themselves. “If you’re losing your sense of touch in your feet, then your balance could be thrown off,” Home Instead Senior Care® Gerontologist and Caregiver Advocate Lakelyn Hogan added.

People leading a more inactive or sedentary lifestyle are often less sensitive and may not notice potential dangers.

Practical tips:

“Stay active and move the body more; kiss and hug; pet a dog; lower the water temperature to avoid burns, check the thermostat so you don’t get overheated or chilled, and check skin regularly for injuries,” noted Hogan. Following, from St. Luke’s Health Center in Kansas City, are tips to consider if loss of sensation is an issue:

  • Cover hands with thick oven mitts when cooking or using the stove.
  • Check (or have your caregiver check) the top and bottom of feet, heels and between toes. It may help to use a mirror. Look for hot spots, blisters or sores, skin color changes, or cracks.
  • Change positions often. Your healthcare provider can teach you the best ways to do this safely. If you’re seated or in a wheelchair, you may need to change positions and shift your weight every 20 to 30 minutes to relieve pressure. If you’re lying down, you may need to do this every 1 to 2 hours.

Hope on the horizon:

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles Health Services have, for the first time, coaxed human stem cells to become sensory interneurons — the cells that give us our sense of touch. The new protocol could be a step toward stem cell-based therapies to restore sensation in paralyzed people who have lost feeling in parts of their body.

Who can help:

It will be important to see a healthcare provider right away if you or a loved one experience any of the following:

  • A fall, even if you feel OK
  • A bruise, cut, burn, or sore in an area without sensation
  • A fever over 100.4°F (38.0°C)
  • Signs of a pressure sore (redness that doesn’t go away or skin breakdown)

Home care can be an important resource for those who are living with a loss of touch. A second set of eyes and ears can watch for dangers in the home and another set of hands can provide assistance to those with sensory loss. Put yourself in another’s shoes and check out the DIY ways to experience sensory loss.

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