Our Director, Susan Langford writes her December blog on the theme of ‘touch’:
“They started to move their hands together”
A few summers ago, when it was possible for children and older people to join together in shared creative workshops, an intergenerational group met in a care home sitting room. In pairs, face to face, they each tried to mirror their partner’s actions. Chloé Bradwell a PhD Student at University of Exeter witnessed one pair in particular.*
“Katherine, of Magic Me, noticed that Samira was having difficulty doing the mirror exercise with Mandy who had very limited eyesight. She suggested that Samira bring her hand very close to her partner, so that their hands would actually touch. Mandy who previously looked disengaged, lifted her head when feeling Samira’s hand making contact with her. The pair started to move their hands together, very slowly at first using small movements. Their movements were growing bigger and bigger, progressively coming out of Mandy’s eyesight. Both were intensely focused. As an outsider, it was not possible to see who led and who followed, as the two seemed so connected and following each other’s flow.”
This image has come back to me so many times as I’ve followed the campaigns and the media stories of the fight for residents in care homes to be allowed to spend time with their families and friends. Since March, or even earlier, homes have all had to constantly weigh up different aspects of well-being for their residents. Too often this means infection control rules out human contact with loved ones. Couples and families are meeting through windows or yards apart or not at all.
At Magic Me we know so many older people who take time to communicate who they are and how they feel through movement, gesture, sounds and actions. People who need you to get up close, so they can tell you in a tiny voice what they need. People who want the reassurance of holding someone’s hand in a somewhat confusing world. People for whom touch is perhaps the primary sense, an essential way of relating to their environment and the people around them.
This week’s announcements on tests that enable visiting and the arrival of vaccines have brought some hope, a sense of relief that restrictions will start to ease in the coming months. It can’t come soon enough. For some families it is already too late.
Through 2020 many of us have greatly missed hugging our friends and family, shaking hands when we meet. As things start to shift, let’s not forget the people for whom touch is even more than that, their only way to be. And the residents, up to 50% of people in some east London care homes, who have no regular visitors, sometimes no known kith or kin. Once close friends and families can visit safely, we need to push for the day when the rest of the community, so essential to quality of life in care homes, can be welcomed back and the joy of moving together can resume.
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*Chloe’s words have been edited here and participants’ names have been changed
Photo in featured image cropped from a photo by Roxene Anderson.