We all have an innate need to socialize and build connections. In fact, quality relationships are an essential metric that experts look at to gauge the level of happiness of an individual.
However, people with Alzheimer’s or dementia are almost deprived of building quality and lasting relationships. That’s because when dementia symptoms, like social isolation, loneliness, and withdrawal, start to affect them, finding that connection with others becomes challenging.
As of this time, there’s no cure for Alzheimer's yet, so experts are discovering and using different approaches to lower the risk or delay the disease progression. A frequent subject of studies claiming to slow cognitive decline is leading a socially active lifestyle.
Impact of Social Interaction on People Living With Alzheimer’s
People living with Alzheimer’s are vulnerable to the psychological setbacks of the disease, which drives them into isolation. When they begin to forget recent happenings, have sudden mood swings, or become violent, they or the people around them will keep their distance. Either way, they eventually withdraw from family, friends, and society.
This is why social interaction is essential to include people with Alzheimer’s in society and combat isolation. The only way to achieve this is by being involved in the community or group activities.
Being socially active has many benefits for seniors with cognitive impairment. For one, conversation with others can stimulate the brain. Not only this but being social can also lower the risk of mental health conditions, such as loneliness and depression. Simply put, a life cultivated with better social relationships can elevate one’s quality of life.
Find out how a socially active lifestyle can help aging individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
1. Social interaction benefits physical health.
Most socially active seniors are physically healthy as many community events, like group fitness, aim to promote physical health.
In assisted living communities, the staff organizes multiple social programs ranging from art classes to more active events, such as aerobics, yoga, tai chi, and more. The goal of these curated activities is to allow residents to socialize with their neighbors and, at the same time, inspire one another to do and enjoy physical activities together.
A physically active lifestyle is also possible for those aging in place. If you’re living with a senior relative, you can join them in their daily routine of morning walks around the neighborhood or have them enroll in a yoga class at a nearby senior center. Your loved one will have more fun doing physical activities if they have a company than alone.
2. Socializing is an excellent mental exercise.
Do you feel happy when talking about your passions with other people? That’s also how your senior parent feels when they engage in talks they love. Conversations can stimulate the production of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain. They’re a form of mental exercise that involves using logical thinking, memory, and other cognitive functions. Thus, conversing with friends is a great way to train these cognitive abilities.
What’s more, when they talk, the brain releases more endorphins, dopamine, and other biochemicals that promote their sense of well-being, making them feel happy.
3. Social activities improve sleep.
A study of 7,162 community-dwelling seniors examined the connection between social activity and walking exercise with insomnia symptoms. Initially, 12% of the seniors reported having difficulty falling asleep, 5% having trouble staying asleep, and 11% experiencing both of these insomnia symptoms.
Using the Multinomial Logistic Regression (MLR) analysis revealed that seniors who participated in social activity alone were 30% less likely to experience insomnia symptoms. Those engaged in walking exercise were 22% less likely to experience insomnia symptoms. The conclusion was that seniors who joined in social activity and/or walking exercise were considerably less likely to report insomnia symptoms
If your senior parent has trouble falling asleep, it’s perhaps they lack social or physical activities during the day.
4. Social interactions reduce the risks of mental health conditions.
Daily social interactions can combat isolation and loneliness — two of the most serious health risks linked with depression and anxiety. According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), nearly 1 in every 4 community-dwelling Americans aged 65 and older are socially isolated. This is despite living in a community surrounded by other people.
Some of the cited factors contributing to social isolation include living alone, chronic conditions, declining health, and the loss of loved ones or friends. If one or more of these applies to your senior loved one, pay attention to their behaviors to assess the risk for mental health problems. Take note that when they're depressed or lonely, it can hasten the progression of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
So even if it’s just for a few minutes every day, remember to strike up a conversation with your aging loved one. Better yet, encourage them to meet with their friends for lunch or afternoon tea.
5. Social support boosts confidence and independence.
By default, the family is the primary source of care and support for those living with Alzheimer’s. However, being surrounded by people outside of the family can also inspire them to do their best on their own.
This is why many seniors move into assisted or memory care living communities to meet new people, make friends, and build relationships. Seniors with supportive social networks are more confident and self-sufficient.
How to Encourage Your Loved One to Socialize
It’s easier to convince your aging loved one to meet with you or their friends when their Alzheimer’s or dementia is at an early stage. As their condition progresses, mild symptoms, such as occasional forgetfulness, turn into moderate or severe symptoms, like social withdrawal, difficulty with communication, and inability to think logically. Later-stage dementia symptoms make it challenging to participate in social activities, even family gatherings.
Hence, family caregivers eventually decide that transitioning into an assisted or memory care community may be best. Their loved one receives personalized care, and they can continue their social life in a safe environment.
But if you’re loved one prefers to age in place, visits with friends, grandchildren, and other family members can help them stay social. You can also organize an activity they miss doing, such as a family trip, shopping, or simply a movie night with everyone. If there’s a senior center near their home (if they live alone), encourage them to try some social events to meet other seniors.
Understanding the benefits of social interaction in physical and mental health can help family caregivers culture a socially active lifestyle for their senior dear ones. The good thing is, even with Alzheimer’s and dementia, anyone can lead meaningful lives by tweaking their lifestyle and way of living.
If your loved one lives in a community, set aside your weekend to visit them. Ask them how their life is within the community, if they have made some friends, or what exciting programs they love the most. Small conversations and other social activities may help relieve dementia symptoms without needing medications.
In general, socially active people with quality relationships live happier and healthier. Thus, if you’re living with a senior relative with cognitive impairment, make an effort to plan family events, like out-of-town trips, barbeque nights, or weekly family dinners to maintain their connection with society. Giving them love and support can help them live a better quality of life.
Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
As a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Syed is committed to working closely with Senior and their family knowing what is it like for individuals facing a challenging time, at times groping in dark trying to figure what is the appropriate next step or care level for their unique situation.
Syed and Senex Memory Advisors are fully committed to working closely with families in creating a personalized, step-by-step process memory care plan at zero cost.