When people first start showing signs of dementia, they often start to withdraw from socializing, partly because they have trouble remembering names, even of their friends.
Their loved ones and friends should show them love and understanding, encouraging them to continue socializing, says Shannon Braun, director of ERS’ Center for Memory Support and Inclusion.
Here are two reasons:
- Socializing can slow the worsening of dementia symptoms; and
- You don’t want to lose their friendship, do you?
Preventive medicine: friendship
Social isolation is a risk factor for dementia, and can accelerate some symptoms.
Conversations and other social interactions are forms of mental exercise. Things like keeping up with current events, and chatting with friends and neighbors, are very beneficial in slowing symptoms for those living with dementia.
Those things are as beneficial as diet and exercise.
Think of socializing the same way you do exercising, she suggests.
“On a day you know you should exercise – you planned to go to the gym today, but you don’t feel like it – you still push yourself,” Braun said. “And the same thing goes for socializing.” It may be more of a challenge to socialize than it used to be, but it remains important for the memory.
A tendency to withdraw
During early stages of dementia, when people are aware of their cognitive deficits, it’s embarrassing to forget someone’s name, especially of a good friend. Some feel uncomfortable with knowing they may not be able to speak as well as they used to.
“The lack of social interaction starts as self-protection – as not wanting to make a faux pas, or to embarrass themselves,” Braun said.
Those living with dementia find it much easier to say ‘no’ to things than to say ‘yes,’ because saying no means they can remain in the place they are, away from embarrassment of not remembering.
Here's some advice for care givers of people living with dementia, who want to get them out into the world....
Rather than saying, ‘Hey, do you want to go for a walk?’ loved ones shoud say, ‘Let’s go for a walk.’ Or, ‘It’s time for our walk,’ to lessen the possibility they will say no.
People are naturally more inclined to get up and do something if you say it in a different way.
Here’s another reason it’s important to get the loved one with dementia out with other people: Staying home isn’t only isolating for those with the disease, but also for their care partners, who have their own needs to socialize, and need their own support network.
Friends and family can be helpful, too. When they know someone is resisting socializing because they’re afraid they’ll forget your name, they can just mention their names when greeting them, or even wear a nametag.
Be extra thoughtful
Braun advised someone who was an avid golfer, but he started turning down opportunities to play. Nobody could figure out why, because he loved playing so much.
Eventually, they figured out he was having a very hard time keeping score.
“All it took was one of his golfing buddies, who had been golfing with him for years, to just keep score for him. And that was it. That was the barrier. So then, he was able to keep golfing, which he loved. And that’s exercise, that’s socialization. That’s something you can keep doing for a long time,” Braun said.
Don’t be afraid to tell a friend you love them, you treasure their friendship, and you’re not going to let some memory issues block that friendship. Tell them you can work on it together. That can be empowering for both of you.
Support groups help
Support groups can be very helpful, not only for the person living with dementia, but for their care partner.
For one thing, both people will be in a place where they can express themselves to people who understand what they’re going through, in ways nobody else in their life does.
Many times, such groups can lead to friendships for both people. They often go out to dinner with others from their group afterward, and friendships begin.
Another thing that can be very helpful for those with varying stages of dementia is when churches and other organizations have members who wear name tags. That doesn’t only help those with dementia, but also people who want to more easily get to know others in the church or group.
A COVID-19 benefit
If there has been one benefit the COVID-19 pandemic brought to people living with dementia, it is that with all the social isolation people have experienced in the past two years, everyone now has more understanding of what it is like to feel lonely and apart from the rest of society. So they have more empathy for those in that situation, and should be more likely to want to help.
Braun believes that can spur people to be extra thoughtful and caring toward those with dementia, and their care partners.
Contact us today to learn more about how living at Marjorie P. Lee can help you or a loved one incorporate these "brain health" components into your own life.