Touch and be touched
Tactile Stimulation – Anything touched and anything that touches us can be stimulating. Every solid object has texture, temperature, shape. Balls in a collection can be smooth or rough, hard or soft, furry or…not. The sense of touch also includes the differentiation and recognition of temperature, pain, and body position (proprioception).
You feel with every part of your body that contains nerves. When you touch something, a hot stove, for instance, the nerve endings in your hand send a message through the nerves of your hand and arm to your spinal chord, which then sends a message to your brain. It is actually the brain that “feels”; so tactile stimulation is brain stimulation!
Tactile Stimulation for the blind and visually sighted
Passive Tactile Stimulation
Almost anyone can give a massage; maybe not like a trained professional, but good enough to make a difference. And massage need not be whole body; a hand or foot massage can be exhilarating, a neck and upper back massage relaxing.
If you have ever had a professional massage, the therapist probably used a massage oil. (If you have never had a professional massage, I highly recommend it. The oil provides lubrication to minimize friction with the skin, but it is or can be scented. The scent is from an essential oil and adds a whole other dimension to the massage. For example, lavender oil and Melissa oil (lemon balm) both have beneficial effects for people, as do others.
Active Tactile Stimulation
The list of things I believe we can use to provide tactile stimulation for people is almost endless. Any “thing,” any object in our world can be touched, within limits. On a walk in the woods, we find the bark is different on each tree. Some, like the Oak is very rough; the bark of the Sycamore, on the other hand, is much smoother. All trees have a definite and noticeable texture. (They have visual texture, as well.)
Virtual Environments – Most of us who are blind cannot freely go walking in the forest, as we need assistance. Even if we can sometimes, to do it daily or even a weekly is usually not feasible. But we can bring part of the forest to us. A piece of bark has the same tactile characteristics whether it’s on the tree or not. A piece of moss growing in a pot cannot be walked on, but we can still appreciate its softness. In the spring and summer leaves are green and soft and supple. Later they become more brittle and will eventually crumble in our hand. I like to collect leaves and pine cones and twigs and acorns. Anything I can find in the forest, even if the forest is really only a city park, it can be used to bring the feel of nature indoors.
Texture is not the only property that provides tactile stimulation. Temperature is also differentiated using the sense of touch. Wet or dry is a tactile dichotomy. Sticky is a tactile discrimination.
Activity Ideas for Tactile Stimulation of the Blind and Partially Sighted
It is also easy to create a virtual beach or seashore. Pour an inch or two of sand in the bottom of a shallow box. On top of that put seashells and stones, dried starfish, some dried kelp or seaweed, or anything else you might find at the beach. Then allow people to explore with her hands. To complete the illusion, play an appropriate video or audio soundtrack in the background. So they can hear or see waves crashing, gulls being noisy….
Balls come in a great variety of textures and sizes. Many are squeezable. Others light up or make noise when bounced, stimulating other senses, as well. Beware of balls (or anything) that light or flashes too brightly or too quickly. A collection of balls can provide a stimulating exploration. Or you could, make a collection of beanbags with different fabric coverings; e.g., satin, corduroy, fake fur, denim, etc.
I start a collection of objects that can provide tactile stimulation. Objects for such a collection can be found almost anywhere, but it’s important to know the audience for whom you’re collecting. Some people put things in their mouths, as do children. I learnt to keep smaller, bite-sized objects out of my collection.
Some suggestions for tactile stimulation:
- Sandpaper – comes in a broad variety of “grits”
- Small carpet and fabric samples
- Pinecones, acorns, and other things found outdoors
- Peach pits, gourds, avocado, orange, kiwi, and other textured food items
- Pieces of ceramic and stone tile (make sure there are no sharp edges)
Using direct tactile stimulation, researchers found improvement in short-term and long-term memory. They also noticed an improvement in general mood, and in socialization and participation in daily activities. After six weeks, these improvements partially remained.
Similar results were achieved by a group in The Netherlands that used peripheral tactile nerve stimulation ( fancy scientific jargon for “massage”) as tactile stimulation.
Janet M. Witucki and Renee Samples Twibell found that simply massaging lotion into the hand of a person significantly improved scores on a test of psychological well being.