Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia can be isolating, for the person and the caregiver:
- A study in the U.K. found that about 1/3 of people reported losing friends after an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Also, almost 40% of people living with dementia reported being lonely (increasing to 2/3 of those who lived alone).
- Social engagement, on the other hand, can have a protective effect against dementia symptoms.
- Many studies indicate that social isolation and withdrawal from activities are common among caregivers.
- And, on the other side, dementia caregivers who are satisfied with their social relationships show fewer negative psychological symptoms.
Why is social isolation common for those with dementia?
- Many times, people don’t understand the disease or how to interact with the person. They may be afraid of the disease (or even irritated by symptoms they don’t understand) and withdraw from contact.
- The individual may feel ashamed and embarrassed by mistakes and therefore stop participating in activities.
- Practical concerns may get in the way. The person may not be able to get to activities after he/she stops driving and have difficulty remembering appointments and trouble taking initiative.
- Dementia caregiving is often a 24/7 job, meaning that most caregivers reduce activities and social time. Dementia caregivers may also feel emotionally isolated from friends who aren’t in the same situation.
Tips for overcoming social isolation for dementia patients and caregivers
- Help friends and family understand the disease and encourage them to ask questions or express their concerns. Here’s a list of great books to help children understand dementia and you might want to share some basic resources with friends as well as being honest about your experiences and feelings.
- Encourage humor! Laughter can be a lifesaver for dealing with uncomfortable feelings and awkward moments in dementia.
- Facilitate visits and continued activities. This might require a little logistical planning and modifications, but it’s worth the effort. We offer suggestions for senior-friendly activities and ways to modify activities on our EasyLiving blog, as well as concierge support for attending outings.
- Caregivers often benefit from support groups and/or professional counseling. This is an outlet for dealing with feelings and challenges of caregiving, which can help you maintain healthy relationships with friends, colleagues and spouses.
- Respite care should be incorporated into dementia care early in the process (get a free respite care checklist!).
What can friends or community members do?
- Keep an open dialogue. Don’t be afraid to ask “stupid questions”.
- Offer concrete assistance, as well as emotional support, to the caregiver. Understand if they turn down your invitations, but also ask if there are ways you might help or what they need to be able to attend. Keep reaching out and don’t be offended when a caregiver does not reciprocate.
- Educate yourself to reduce fear and misunderstanding. Check out some tips about communicating with people with dementia and how to connect.
- Increase Alzheimer’s awareness and help debunk myths and fears.
Are you facing the challenges of dementia care? Get help from a care manager, your partner in caregiving!