How to maintain social contact with dementia

Having dementia can be a lonely experience for many. Family and friends may spend less time with the person suffering from dementia, and some carers may concentrate on the day-to-day chores of life, and forget about the need for social interaction.

Top five reasons social contact is important

There are many reasons to make sure that someone with dementia maintains social contact. Here are five of them.

1. Social isolation can lead to depression

Depression is very common among people with dementia. Social isolation can exacerbate the symptoms of depression. A person with both dementia and depression can become more confused, withdrawn and aggressive, and also develop sleeping and eating problems.

2. Loneliness can speed up cognitive decline

Withdrawal from social interaction, whether voluntary or forced can increase the speed at which cognitive decline, particularly memory-loss, takes place.

3. Social interaction provides an outlet for emotions and thoughts

Everyone likes to be listened to. People with dementia are no different. Being able to express one’s views, thoughts and feelings are important, and social interaction enables this to occur.

4. Social activities maintain happiness

Just because someone develops dementia doesn’t mean they stop enjoying the activities and hobbies they have enjoyed throughout their lives. Many such activities involve social interaction. Continuing to partake in activities that have always made them happy will continue to make them happy.

5. Social interaction has physical benefits

Studies have shown that mental stimulation, including through social interaction, can reduce blood pressure, the risk of cardiovascular problems, some forms of arthritis, stress and anxiety. That’s got to be good!

Ten tips on maintaining social contact

It can be hard for a family remember, friend or carer to know exactly which social activities to encourage, and how to make them as beneficial as possible. So here are ten tips to help.

1. Make sure social activities are conducted at the right time

Social activities should be planned for when the person with dementia is feeling at their best, mentally and physically. It’s not uncommon for someone to feel at their best at about the same time every day, so once this has been established, try and arrange social activities at this time.

2. Make sure social activities are conducted in the right place

Social activity should take place in environments that are not too crowded or busy. Constant movement and lots of noise can be very off-putting and stressful for people with dementia. However, the location should not be totally calm, some stimulation is important.

3. Communicate clearly

When communicating with someone with dementia, it is important to do so slowly and clearly. Give them time to take in and understand what you have said. And take time to listen to them – don’t put pressure on them to communicate quickly.

4. Prepare others for the interaction

Some people may find it awkward to interact with a family member or friend who has dementia. They may be anxious and nervous about what to do, particularly for the first time. This anxiety can come uncertainty about what to expect. So help prepare such people by explaining how the mind and behaviour of their family member/friend has changed, and suggest activities that will be suitable – and result in less stress for both parties.

5. Share the social interaction

Encourage social interaction from as many different people as possible. This will provide greater stimulation for the person with dementia.

6. Don’t overdo activities

Remember to give the person with dementia breaks during and between social activities. Try and identify signs that they are tiring or losing interest, and step in as soon as you recognise these signs.

7. Be patient

It is possible, even likely, that the person with dementia will lose concentration during social activity. They may appear to be confused or misunderstand what is happening. Be patient when this happens. You can steer then gently back on course, or even accept the diversion and go along with their thoughts. Perhaps it is a sign of tiredness, in which case, organise a break.

8. Find out what they always liked doing

Try and organise activities that the person with dementia would have pursued before they developed the condition. They will be familiar with tasks, and it’s most likely it’s an activity they will still enjoy. If you didn’t know the person well in the past, speak to family and close friends who can provide you with the right information.

9. Respect their creative efforts

If the social activity involves creative input, such as art or music, respect what they come up with. Don’t criticise or point out how something could have been improved. Respect their creative efforts.

10. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver

If you promise something, make sure you stick to it. The person with dementia may well have been looking forward to whatever activity you had in mind. If you don’t turn up or you cancel the activity you had arranged, they may well be disappointed. Of course, unexpected events can occur, but habitual ones are unacceptable.

Support and care

If you’re looking for care and support for your loved one, it’s important that you take time to consider all options. Home care is one of those options. For many people with dementia, continuing to live in their own, familiar environment will be the best tonic for them. CareAbout can match you with a Home Care provider that specialises in dementia-care trained staff and meets your individual needs.

If you’re considering an Aged Care Home, make sure you compare homes who provide specialist dementia care. CareAbout has a free online tool to compare the specialities of different Aged Care Homes and their fees and charges. Or speak to an aged care specialist at CareAbout.