On the morning of May 12th, Rosalyn Cama of CAMA Inc. will be presenting on the healing power of touch at TRO. Before she takes the stage for Design Museum Mornings, Rosalyn gave us some insight into the importance of personal touch with physical health and how designers can design for human to human interaction. Read more about her thoughts below and RSVP to her Design Museum Mornings on May 12th!
The sense of touch develops in the womb and is believed to be the last sense to leave us. Whether it’s a pat on the back, a warm embrace, or a firm handshake, touch is fundamental to effective communication, the development of loving relationships and our overall health and wellbeing. Though Western culture still largely considers touch taboo, industries are beginning to harness the healing and restorative powers of touch as numerous studies continue to confirm its many therapeutic benefits.
Healthcare Designers understand the positive impact of social support, allocating space and specifying furniture with family in mind. Rarely, however, do designers explore how the design of the built environment can encourage physical touch between patients, loved ones and caregivers. While inviting friends and family into clinical spaces likely increases physical contact, a number of barriers still exist. Culture, fear of infection, and increasingly electronic medical records, all discourage touch. Understanding and awareness of this disconnect may significantly transform the design of healing spaces.
From newborns to the elderly, touch therapy affects people of all ages. Newborn babies and their parents form stronger bonds through early skin-to-skin contact, a technique called “kangaroo care”. Babies that are provided with kangaroo care sleep better, cry less and have regulated breathing and heart rates, while their mothers are more satisfied and spend more time looking at and interacting with their child [20, 21]. Today in neonatal intensive care units, kangaroo care is encouraged by caregivers and can be engaged through the use of the comfortable rocker-recliners that accompany each incubator.
The physical interactions of families can influence the design of mother-baby units as well.
Today, mothers typically labor, deliver, and recover all in the same room with their babies by their side for most of the time. Long gone are the days of nurses whisking newborns to the nursery so that mothers can recuperate in quiet. Fathers are more engaged too, providing support for the laboring mother throughout the entire process. Larger, private rooms should provide a recliner or sleep sofa so that fathers can spend the night and help care for the mother and infant.
In the workplace, touch therapies are becoming increasingly more common with companies offering therapies on site as part of wellness programs. Massage increases alertness, possibly impacting productivity. In one study conducted at a medical school, staff received fifteen-minute massages during their lunch break and reported “heightened awareness, much like a runner’s high.” 
For many Westerners, aging often results in spending more time alone in isolation. Grown children leave the nest, spouses and close friends pass away and lack of mobility or loss of a driver’s license leads to more time spent at home. These major life-changes diminish opportunities to receive physical touch, which increases isolation for American elders who already live in one of the least tactile cultures.
In her presentation, Rosalyn Cama will explore the remarkable sense of touch even further and teach designers how to harness its healing powers within the built environment.
1. Anderson, G.C. (1995). Touch and the kangaroo care method. In Field, T.M. (ed.), Touch in Early Development, 35-51.
2. Klaus, M., and Kennell, J. (1982). Parent-Infant Bonding, 2d ed., St. Louis: Mosby.
3. Field, T.M. (2001). Touch, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 133.