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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


Benevolent Touch provides healing hands

Registered nurse demonstrates a massage

Registered Nurse Maxine McCain demonstrates a massage as part of the Benevolent Touch program with veteran Thomas Malone.

By Sue Gresser, Geriatric Clinical Nurse Specialist
Thursday, December 1, 2011

Benevolent Touch is a new program designed to bring the best care to our veterans. 

Benevolent Touch is any positive tactile contact on another or one’s own skin with loving intent.  It was developed originally at St. Ann Center in Milwaukee to help patients with Alzheimer's who may be challenged with anxiety and troubling behaviors such as wandering and aggression.  

The theory behind Benevolent Touch is even though the mind deteriorates, the body often remembers.  Initial training for RECC staff began in June 2010 and four staff members were certified by the St. Ann Center earlier this year.

Instructors are Maxine McCain,  and Brigid Riordan, both registered nurses; and Mattie Murry and Glenda Riggs, both  restorative nursing assistants. They have developed and started an education program to get as many staff across the RECC Division trained to be able to utilize Benevolent Touch in their daily work with the veterans.

“I wanted to do this because I really believe in the concepts. I see how a massage can help people feel, and help them with pain and anxiety,” Riggs said. “For a lot of people here, they don’t have family or loved ones anymore, and no one touches them in a loving way. They’re touched all day long medically – we poke, prod and take blood, but what they need is that hug or friendly squeeze.”

According to the program, some unstructured forms of Benevolent Touch are hand holding, a pat on the back, hugging, and sitting in someone's presence.  The structure types of Benevolent Touch that are included in the educational sessions are hand and foot massages, back massage, facial massage, shoulder massage and breathing and relaxation techniques.

“Personal space is very important, and you don’t do anything inappropriate or anything that might appear that way,” Riggs said. “You definitely let the veteran know what you are doing, and you get permission. The thing is, for many of us who work here, we really get to know the veterans, and it is personal.” 

Staff members are encouraged to incorporate Benevolent Touch into their daily assignments, such as giving a head massage during a bath and shampoo, sitting with a veteran and holding his or her hand, and providing relaxation through light touch to help an anxious or restless veteran calm down.  The overall benefits to our veterans include decreased anxiety, decreased pain, increased trust and relationship building, relaxation, better sleep, decreased agitation and restlessness, and enhanced energy and alertness. 

The benefits for staff include improved therapeutic relationship building with the veteran and augmenting the care they already provide with strategies to enhance the veteran's comfort.  

Riggs said she still tears up when she thinks about one veteran who had dementia and was being transferred to another community nursing home.

“I usually go with all the guys who get placed in the community, so they don’t go alone,” she said. “I want them to go with a familiar face. This guy was scared, and his eyes were really big. You could see he was worried. I reached over and held his hand the whole way there.

“He told me, ‘You don’t know how good it is to just have someone hold my hand. It’s been a long time.’ He died a week later, and I think I may have been the last person to give him that kind of comfort.”




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