Touch and Intimacy in the Elderly
Despite what many people think, touch and intimacy in the elderly are as important to them as it is to people who are decades younger. Intimacy and aging are two words that can make grandkids say “ewww” and offspring squirm, but senior citizen intimacy is alive and well in the lives of countless people over the age of 70.
The need for companionship and intimacy does not decrease with age. In fact, the need for close physical contact and the importance of a loving embrace is something people long for at any age.
There is no age at which physical intimacy, including sexual intercourse, is inappropriate. Aging may change the way intimacy is expressed but advancing age does not mean the desire for physical contact stops.
Emotional changes in older adulthood may surprise you. Studies have shown that although old age comes with aches, pains, forgetfulness, and declining health, most people over 70 report feeling happier, calmer, and more content with life than they did in their younger years. Emotional well-being seems to be the rule rather than the exception in older adults.
So how does this affect intimacy and the desire to touch and be touched in the aging population?
- Sexual desire depends more on emotional attitude and state of mind than on one’s chronological age.
- Intimacy can be displayed in many forms. Intimate touching, hugging, kissing, holding hands, skin-to-skin contact and even verbal expressions of affection can be extremely satisfying, especially if you are emotionally fulfilled.
- Intimacy involves a connection between two people. Every relationship is unique. If the level of intimacy is satisfying to both people in the relationship, contentment will follow.
- Sexual desire is different in the elderly, but not diminished. Physical constraints, medication, and changes in libido can be stumbling blocks, but where there’s a will there’s a way!
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What about intimacy in older marriages?
People who have had a satisfying sex life throughout their marriage usually continue to enjoy intimacy well into old age. Some people find greater satisfaction in their sex life in their retirement years than they did when they were younger.
There are fewer distractions, more privacy, and unplanned pregnancy is not an issue.
Our bodies change as we age, but lifelong partners are comfortable with each other and don’t feel self-conscious about fading muscle tone, a little weight gain, or taking longer to achieve sexual satisfaction. Older couples take time to enjoy each other, and they understand the changes they are both facing.
The past year has been particularly difficult for some older couples who have been separated because of Covid-19. If one spouse is in the hospital or a nursing facility, it is vital to the mental health of both partners to see each other and to be able to embrace or at least touch each other. For many couples, the Covid-19 restrictions have taken a toll on their emotional well-being and their marriage.
The lack of interaction and intimacy with the partner they’ve spent a lifetime with has caused anxiety and depression for both partners. Intimacy in the form of a simple touch of a hand or kiss on the forehead has not been possible, causing conditions such as failure to thrive, depression, and even a decrease in mental functioning.
We are seeing a slow but steady return to normalcy as people are getting vaccinated and the restrictions on nursing and assisted living facilities are being cautiously lifted. Spouses are reuniting and it is contributing to the emotional well-being of both partners.
So yes, intimacy and touch are vital components to the health and happiness of all people. Intimacy can help prevent depression, boost self-esteem, and give elderly people a sense of contentment and satisfaction with life.
An emotionally intimate relationship helps elderly people feel connected and brings out the best in both partners.