BY DUNCAN GUMAER
It’s often said that humans are social creatures, especially when it comes to our health and sense of wellbeing. Studies have shown people with satisfying relationships are less likely to have health problems. They also tend to live longer, happier lives.
Of course, dementia can make things more complicated. How does Alzheimer’s affect social life? Between behavioral changes, losses in self-confidence, and an increased sense of anxiety, it’s not uncommon for people with dementia to suffer negative social consequences.
For people suffering from dementia, social interaction can be challenging, yet its importance remains the same. That’s why it can be important to take a moment to learn more about how to encourage social interaction for a person with dementia, and what you can do to help.
Reasons to Socialize
Even for people who do not have dementia, as we age, social interactions become increasingly important. One reason why is because they can be essential for staving off cognitive decline. For instance, a recent Harvard study found that socially active people experience less memory decline with age.
Part of the reason why is because socializing can be a great form of mental exercise. And mental stimulation has been shown to do everything from helping to reduce your blood pressure to alleviating pain from arthritis. But that means in order to get those benefits, you have to be an active and engaged participant in social activity. That might mean getting lunch with a friend, taking an exercise class, and so forth.
Likewise, research has found that as little as one hour of social interaction per week can create significant improvements in a person’s quality of life. Because even that modest level of social interaction can help break the cycle of isolation and depression that causes so many health problems.
In fact, social interaction and exercise are believed to improve blood flow in the brain, and to help in the creation of new synapses. One result is that people with a large social network are more than a quarter less likely to develop dementia than someone with few friends and acquaintances.
Helping People Socialize
Because it presents such a significant barrier to communication, you will need to learn how to interact with dementia patients. For example, it can be useful to create a positive mood. You might do that with a facial expressions and tone of voice that reflects an upbeat attitude. Because dementia patients may be more willing to engage in activities at certain times of day, it helps to try and work around their schedule.
Depending on the stage of their illness, you may try using simple sentences, speaking in a slow deliberate way. It also helps to try and get a loved one’s attention before speaking, and reducing background distractions like TV.
Socializing outside of your family can be valuable as well. It’s often useful to provide tailored or structured activities for your loved ones. Just be sure you take into account their abilities, interests, and needs. But even something simple, like sharing a puzzle or game with another person, can help maintain cognitive function.
Alzheimer’s and Social Interaction
Engaging with our environment helps us form bonds with the people around us. It promotes health and our general sense of wellbeing. And even with the added difficulties, this remains true for Alzheimer’s patients. It can take some time to learn how to help encourage social interaction for a person with dementia. But even a small effort can have a big impact on someone’s life.