Why sense of touch matters in the aging in place garden

We rely on sight and hearing for most of our connection with the world around us. As these senses diminish, we start relying on those remaining, such as touch. Our skin is rich in touch receptors, especially at the tips of our fingers.

Huisache trunk and branch showing thorns

Huisache trunk and branch showing thorns

Two studies about physical aspects of aging yielded ideas about the sense of touch that we can put to use in the ageless garden.

  • A fingerprints study found that those surface ridges on the fingertips generate vibrations that enhance our sense of touch, especially for texture.
  • A study on touch sensation found that touch sensations increased when the person was looking at the area being touched.

Think about it. How much of your day is spent feeling smooth or soft textures versus rough or prickly ones?

Our houses are designed for comfort, from the fluffy bamboo or cotton towels to the slick keyboards and touchpads that guide our tools and controls. If you have brick or stone on the exterior of your house, you have probably never stopped to feel the grittiness of the surface.

As I thought about touch, I wondered about the tree bark in my own yard. I'm going to try a 5-minute-a-day experiment this week this way:

  • One minute - Locate a tree and feel the bark with one hand.
  • One minute - Stand close and look at the details of the bark.
  • Two minutes - Continue to look at the bark while feeling the bark with the same hand used earlier.
  • One minute - Now feel something with both hands, such as the fabric of my coat, or a large leaf, or a ceramic container, or the porch chair, or...

Here's what I'd like to know:

  1. Will there be a difference in the touch sensations in the two hands?
  2. Is the difference an improvement in sensitivity?
  3. Would this make a difference if it's spring or summer and the day is sunny, compared to the sullen late-fall overcast predicted this week?
  4. Do changes in coloration on the trunk feel different from each other?
  5. Does the bark of two trees that are the same species feel different?
  6. If there's a difference in touch sensations, does the difference last?
  7. If not, how often would repetition be needed to keep sensitivity heightened?
  8. Does the additional sensitivity, if any, make a difference in touch in the rest of my daily life?

Here are some of the trees that I'm using in this experiment.

Crape myrtle bark

Crape myrtle bark

Corky bark of a cedar elm with winged protrusions

Corky bark of a cedar elm with winged protrusions

Peeling Arizona cypress bark

Peeling Arizona cypress bark

Texas redbud trunk

Texas redbud trunk

How are you building or maintaining your sense of touch as you age? Could your landscape help?