64 Percent of People Living with Dementia Feel Isolated Following a Diagnosis

It may be awkward visiting friends or family members whose dementia has progressed to the point where they no longer recognize you, but your visit is still important.  The Alzheimer’s Society recently conducted a survey of people diagnosed with dementia and, of the 300 survey respondents, 64 percent report that since their diagnosis they have felt isolated from friends and family. These feelings can be explained, in part, by perceptions people have about dementia. A separate Alzheimer’s Society survey reported that 42 percent of people believe there is no benefit to visiting someone who sees them as a stranger.

More than half of people living with dementia curtail, or eliminate altogether, their involvement in social activities, the society reports. Regular visits with friends and family members, many dementia patients say, would help them stay connected and provide someone to help with hobbies and other activities. While two-thirds of people surveyed claim they would continue to visit a friend who no longer recognizes them, the statistics indicate that many do not follow through on this.

Visiting Is Not a Pointless Effort 

As dementia progresses, it becomes more difficult to remember names and faces. With short-term memory failing, someone with dementia may forget you just visited earlier in the week. This does not mean the visit was a waste of time. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, although the actual circumstances of a visit may escape the mind, the emotional memory, the feelings of happiness, comfort and connectedness remain long after the visit is forgotten.  This is important to the dementia patient’s overall health and well-being.

Social and affectionate physical contact has biological consequences. Research shows that feelings of loneliness contribute to cognitive decline. Holding someone’s hand, giving someone a hug, lowers blood pressure. A lack of social contact triggers the release of stress hormones and inflammation, exacerbating underlying physical illnesses.   

Tips for Visitation

Socializing with someone who has dementia does not need to be awkward or uncomfortable. Teepa Snow, a leading educator in the field of dementia care and creator of the Positive Approach to Care technique, advises visitors to learn a new way to interact with their friend or loved one. Rather than trying to build a bridge to the forgotten past, be with that person in the present moment.

People are aware when their cognition is declining. Their biggest fear, according to Snow, is that they will look foolish. You can ease these fears by living in their world, enjoying it rather than judging it. There is no reason to correct errors or “test” the memory of your friend or loved one with a barrage of questions. Simply being there, offering companionship and conversation, even if you are not quite following the direction of the conversation, will go a long way towards easing the feelings of isolation and loneliness so many with dementia suffer.