Everyone benefits from social interaction. It’s essential to both our physical and emotional health. In fact, the contribution is so strong that studies have shown those with robust relationships tend to be happier, healthier and may even live longer.
Yet some people misunderstand the importance of social interaction for those living with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive challenges.
Because they struggle with memory or other brain functions, it may be wrongly assumed that they can no longer benefit from socializing with others. However, they also need this connection that can greatly impact their quality of life.
The importance of social interaction for those with Alzheimer’s
Having access to a social network is crucial but it should also be noted that the quality of the interactions matter. Research on whether social ties can reduce the risk of developing dementia revealed that merely having a large number of friends wasn’t a factor. It was the quality and support from relationships that made the difference.
Here are a few examples that illustrate the important connection between health and social interaction:
- May decrease anxiety and agitation
There’s evidence that without having high quality relationships, there can be an increased risk of developing or worsening cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, autoimmune disorders, high blood pressure and cancer.
Having others who provide emotional support or friendship can also relieve stress and anxiety for those with Alzheimer’s.
- May increase the individual’s quality of life
Studies have shown a strong connection between social interaction and improving quality of life. Many avenues can provide this positive result, including getting a good night’s sleep, participating in enjoyable activities, eating well and lifelong learning.
Spending time with others can not only make the individual with dementia feel connected or happy, but it may also create feelings of being cared for and secure.
- May slow down the development of dementia
There have been studies that looked at the effects of social interaction on individuals who were free of dementia. Those with higher levels of interaction were found to be less likely to develop dementia or to slow down its symptoms.
A good social network may also provide protection from the dangerous health conditions that often arise from loneliness and isolation.
How to help your loved one successfully stay socially active
One of the risks for those living with Alzheimer’s is the tendency to avoid others, often leading to isolation. The challenge to communicate and interact can also increase as the illness progresses. But there are ways to help your loved one feel connected.
These tips from the Alzheimer’s Association may encourage and facilitate your loved one’s engagement with others and the world around them. Of course, what will work best for your family member will depend on the stage of illness and personal preferences. Trial and error is usually helpful.
- Create the most favorable environment
It’s best to plan for activities that won’t be overly stimulating. Choose a location that has the fewest distractions, including a television playing in the background or people passing through.
Look for areas where your loved one will feel comfortable and at ease. If sitting outside with the warm sun on their face brings them pleasure, try to find the perfect bench in a park or even in your own backyard. A quiet space will allow your loved one the opportunity to participate in the activity or conversation with a lower risk of confusion or agitation.
- Plan for participation in social activities
Remaining or becoming engaged with family, friends or the community can greatly impact your loved one’s overall mood and sense of belonging. If possible, help them join a club, volunteer or take a walk with others.
Remember, being social doesn’t have to be a formal event. It can also include getting together with family and friends, reading a favorite book or looking at a photo album together. Playing games or singing a well-loved song is not only social but fun.
- Help visitors know how best to interact
Providing these tips to help friends or family visit or communicate with your loved one can help everyone:
- Don’t exclude the person from any conversations
- Speak directly to the person rather than to the caregiver
- Make eye contact and be a good listener
- Allow enough time so that the person can respond to your question
- It might be easier to ask yes or no questions
- Be patient and reassuring. Don’t correct them even if what they say isn’t accurate
- Consider what feelings the person may be trying to convey
- Choose the best time
Those living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia typically will have times during the day when they may seem to be clearer or less agitated.
It’s not uncommon for them to experience sundowning, beginning in the late afternoon or early evening. This is often when they may become more restless, irritable or confused. Try to schedule any visits or activities earlier in the day or during the time when your loved one seems to feel the best.
Life at Tapestry Senior Living communities
We understand the importance of social interaction for those who are living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Our staff is specially trained in the best ways to respond and connect with our residents. We also carefully plan our activities and programs to encourage residents to participate and we tailor each to the preferences of the individual.
If your loved one’s needs are beginning to exceed the ability of the family to provide care, we hope you will consider memory care at one of our communities. We understand that this isn’t always an easy decision to make and are here to answer any questions that you may have.
Our person-centered approach, services, amenities and activities all play an important role in helping your loved one and your family live a meaningful and connected life.
If you would like more information about a possible move to senior living, we invite you to download our free guide and resource on how to decide between home and senior living, Should You Stay or Should You Go?
Our person-centered approach, services, amenities and activities all play an important role in helping your loved one and family live a meaningful and connected life. If you have any questions or would like to schedule a personal tour, please contact one of our advisors at a community near you.