Walking into the community center, I saw an elder woman enjoying the Autumn sun, sitting on a bench. In a flash, she popped up, grasped my hand, and held it for 5 minutes as we walked together down the halls, talking. I had never met or seen her before. By the time we arrived at her destination, I had a new friend.

Alice always tells me that when you age the need for human touch intensifies. She says it is almost involuntary. She is 94, and she is a big advocate of hugging.

It was partly her idea to show up at the Senior Expo in the mall, with a "free hugs" sign. We figured, people come out for free stuff. Maybe they'll want a hug, too. Well, believe it or not, ours was the longest line at the Expo. Alice, at the last minute, wasn't able to be there. But my daughter (age 2) and I reported back. That day made an impact.

I ended up including a chapter in my book on the importance of hugs. And I agree with Alice that the need for touch probably does intensify with age, particularly in the context of loss. And yet, I think this is yet another life lesson that is ageless.

Case in point: On move-in day at Colgate University, the staff at the bookstore wear shirts that offer "free hugs." And lo and behold, a whole lot of parents, and a few first-year college students, show up for hugs.

So here's to free hugs in nursing homes and senior centers, in families, and on college campuses.

And, I just found this while googling for free hugs: the national free hugs campaign.

Copyright Meika Loe

Meika Loe is Associate Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at Colgate University. She is the author of Aging Our Way: Lessons for Living from 85 and Beyond

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