06 March 2019
In her second blog for us, Beth Britton writes about how social interaction can help a person living with dementia…
After a diagnosis of dementia, many people withdraw into themselves, sometimes because of the shock of the diagnosis, sometimes because of feelings of helplessness given that there are few treatments and no current cure, and sometimes through emotions akin to a grieving process. As Jacqui says in her Dementia Diary, “Everybody at the Memory clinic wants to tell me about how I can live well with dementia, but I have feelings too and I need to go through the process of grief.”
Against this backdrop, being sociable may be the very last thing a person feels like engaging in, perhaps because they want to avoid questions about their health, are worried about doing something that others might consider foolish, or simply because they feel that dementia is, or has, stripped away their social skills.
Lack of social connectivity can have unintended knock-on consequences though, including the person becoming isolated and lonely (as John describes in his Dementia Diary) or even developing depression, and once these feelings grow the person can become even more withdrawn. This can then lead to a vicious circle of negativity, with feelings of desperation and vulnerability that are often heard by the people working on helplines such as The Silver Line.
Ironically, the very reasons that socialising can become difficult are also the reasons that it is so important – it challenges us to meet and greet others, have conversations, share experiences and be a little less inwardly focused – all things that are good for the brain.
Indeed, some studies have suggested that being socially active is one of many factors that can help to reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia, with the graphic from The Lancet showing that alongside elements such as hearing loss, obesity and physical inactivity, social isolation is a potentially modifiable risk factor in the development of dementia.
I know from my own experiences with my father that he became very socially withdrawn after his retirement, which led into a ten-year period of changes in his health and wellbeing that we eventually learnt was vascular dementia. Back then initiatives like peer-support weren’t known to us, but in the work I do now I see the immense value of DEEP (Dementia Engagement and Empowerment) Groups and Dementia Alliance International in helping to bring individuals with a diagnosis of dementia together to support each other and provide those important social connections.
When additional care and support is required for a person with dementia, live-in care can be a positive option for a person in need of one-to-one support to regain social skills that may have appeared to be lost due to their dementia. Good live-in care should bring two people together who are well-matched, and begin a voyage of discovery that goes from meeting, greeting and starting conversations through to sharing experiences and memories, all of which can help to forge a really positive relationship.
With such companionship often comes increased confidence, and the person’s family and/or live-in carer may be able to support the person to venture beyond their home and explore their local community, perhaps to meet with their peers, attend a group or class, or participate in activities previously loved or completely new, all of which can help to provide a reason to get up in the morning, maintain a routine, boost the wellbeing of everyone involved and ultimately create those ‘living in the moment’ experiences that I still recollect and cherish now.
About the author:
Beth Britton is a leading campaigner, consultant, writer and blogger whose father had vascular dementia for 19 years. Beth is also a Skills for Care Endorsed Training Provider. More information on Beth’s website: https://www.bethbritton.com
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