Sharing a warm embrace with the elderly

Sharing a warm embrace with the elderly

A Jefferson’s Ferry resident and a staff member share a hug. Photo by Mallika Mitra

By Mallika Mitra

Sudden music, dancing and hugs surprised residents of Jefferson’s Ferry retirement community on Dec. 12, when staff members participated in a flash mob with “Hug Me Maybe,” a parody of singer Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”

Nearly 200 residents laughed and clapped along to the music while Jefferson’s Ferry management, waitstaff and elder care personnel performed a choreographed dance and made their way through the audience hugging residents.

It was the second flash mob — a sudden convergence of people, usually for a surprise performance — set to “Hug Me Maybe” that the residents have seen, the first one being in January as Jefferson’s Ferry CEO Karen Brannen started conducting a study entitled “Embraceable You.” The goal of the study, which was run by Hauppauge-based Corporate Performance Consultants and Brannen herself, was to see whether contact would enhance the lives of residents.

According to Brannen, about 200 residents participated in the study, which consisted of three surveys: one in January, before the interpersonal hugging program called “Hug Me” began, one during the program and one in April, after the program was completed.

The program period kicked off with a flash mob, followed by games and activities throughout that first week. If residents hugged staff or each other, they would receive tokens, which were later drawn for prizes. Residents could also hug staff members at hugging booths located throughout the complex and receive small prizes, such as candy and beads.

“The day we announced what we were doing, a resident came up to me afterward with tears in her eyes and said, ‘My husband died a year ago and this is exactly what I needed. I need a hug,’” Brannen said. “It all just meant so much to her.”

Although “Embraceable You” was not a clinical study, Brannen said it showed that interpersonal touch has a positive effect on the moods of residents. The questions concerning depression on the surveys given to residents were more positive after the original “Hug Me” program concluded in April.

Now the “Hug Me” program has started up again, and this time it’s here to stay.

“We want to make [hugging] part of our culture,” Brannen said. “Between staff and residents, we have very positive relationships. The culture is one that they accept a program like this.”

A waitress in Jefferson’s Ferry’s dining hall choreographed last Thursday’s dance, performed close to the holidays.

“The holidays are a very hard time for people who have lost family,” Brannen said. She added that many residents have lost loved ones and don’t have the opportunity for interpersonal touching.

The flash mob’s routine, which was taught to the staff in one week by three members of the dining room staff who had been in the original performance in January, yielded a positive response.

“The spontaneity is just wonderful,” said Nancy Darling, who has been a resident for more than four years.

Chuck Darling added, “The kids in the dining room and staff are fantastic.”

According to Brannen, for the “Embraceable You” study, residents and staff of Jefferson’s Ferry were taught how to appropriately hug each other.

As a result, “residents were getting closer,” she said.

According to Faith Littlefield, who will have been a resident for three years in March, residents were given literature about how physical contact is healthy.

“It really is good for you,” Littlefield said. “Karen, our CEO, is the best hugger.”

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