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The Need for Physical Stimulation

May 2022 bring new insight and understanding to the world of people living with neurocognitive impairment. And peace to the rest of us… What happens to the physical needs of people living with dementia? Do they simply disappear? We all have the need to be held, to be nurtured through physical contact and stimulation. Over the past year, I have heard several stories of nursing home employees being shocked and disturbed by what is labelled as “disinhibition” – when people living with dementia show their need for stimulation by touching themselves or others in a loving, caressing way. Doctors are called and medication is prescribed to stop this “dysfunctional” behaviour.

Basically, chemical restraint is administered to disconnect the person from their need for physical/sexual/sensual stimulation. I often wonder what it must feel like to live a life where there is almost no physical (sensual) stimulation – no one who touches or hugs you in a loving, holding way, no one who touches you in a way that makes you feel loved and connected. Most human beings thrive and flourish in loving relationships. When we simply become an object to be taken care of – washed, dressed and fed as a routine task – what happens to our sense of Self? How do we manage without these affirmations? This short lm is a poignant portrayal of the need to be physically connected – regardless of the sexual label that is assigned to it. Straight, gay, lesbian – as humans we need physical touch and stimulation to make us feel alive.

Could it be that many of the distressed reactions that we see from people living with dementia are perhaps a reaction to a need for touching or holding? A desperate cry for stimulation to feel that they are still alive, still human?

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