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

You are reading

Aging Our Way

Continuity Across a Life: Sexuality

Sexuality in elders is a normal part of life, but often ignored.

"How Many of Us Are Left?"

One of the original 30 elders in my research takes account of his 96th year.

When Our Pets Enter the Dying Process

A dog guides his family for 13 years