During stressful or worrying times, many of us look to friends, family and colleagues for support but - good relationships and feeling connected to others are important all the time.
Isolation & Loneliness
Did you know that loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are said to be as bad for your health as potentially smoking 15 cigarettes a day?
It’s fair to say that we are all more understanding of the feelings of loneliness and being isolated since the advent of Covid-19 and there are not many people who would think that that it’s a natural state to exist within.
As humans we are naturally social beings, meaning we thrive through the companionship of others, or by feeling a part of a community. Loneliness is something that impacts everyone from time to time, although it is more prevalent for those individuals living alone, the elderly and of course, people living with dementia and their families.
What does social isolation mean?
Physical and emotional isolation occur when a person becomes removed from other people, networks and communities, whether physically or metaphorically. The result is a feeling of loneliness which can have health implications and it has been linked to anything from cognitive decline, heart disease, strokes and most notably mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Why can living with dementia increase feelings of isolation and loneliness?
Firstly, isolation and living with dementia do not automatically go hand-in-hand. There is evidence to suggest that loneliness can increase the risk of developing dementia by up to 50% which is why we all have a responsibility to look out for this with those we care about and love.
Living with dementia can mean that you’re more prone to isolation and these might arise for a number of reasons;
A loss of confidence
Hearing loss or sight loss
Change of living situation
Change in routine
Change in mobility
Losing family and friends
A change in ability to communicate with others
Receiving a dementia diagnosis itself may naturally lead to a sense of loneliness and isolation, for a time. We are all human and adapting the way any of us looks to the future takes time – immediately following a diagnosis is an important part of any dementia journey. Continued feelings of isolation however ARE NOT an inevitable part of living with dementia. Knowing what to look out for is the best way to challenge isolation before it sets in.
How to combat isolation when living with dementia
Changes in your ability to communicate, your mobility and a possible loss of confidence might mean that activities and routines need to be adapted to ensure you can continue with them.
Stay active, meet friends and family and generally endeavour to continue doing what you love – these are all important aspects to maintaining your social connections. In fact, studies suggest that social inclusion and continued stimulation are linked to slowing the progression of dementia.
There are some things you can put in place with friends and family straight away which ensure you maintain your connections. Depending on the stage of your personal journey, friends and family could help by:
Diarising a regular visiting time and day
Sourcing easy to use technology (here are some good examples)
Helping to arrange transport to activities and social events
Support you in trying new activities and reaching out to new groups – if local to Sage House we run a range of different activities throughout the week – do check them out!
Arranging for equipment to help your social links - for example, access to the internet, video calling, a voice-controlled Bluetooth smart speaker
If hearing presents a problem, writing letters is a great way to stay in touch - and they can be revisited time and time again. Making the font large and easy to read is a must.
Creating memory boxes together to unpack and talk about is a lovely way to stay connected- visual aids can really help when language may become more of a challenge.
Adaptations may be necessary but continuing to do what you enjoy and interacting with old friends (and new) is absolutely possible.
Our Wayfinding Team are here to help with any advice you might need on avoiding loneliness as you reach the different stages of your dementia journey. They also have some useful hints and tips for how your social network can offer you continued support throughout.
Our Wayfinding Team are always here to offer free advice and guidance for your whole dementia journey, even from before you have a formal diagnosis. The Wayfinders can also sign post to other services we work with to provide holistic, person-centred support.
If you have concerns about your loved one's memory, you can contact our Wayfinders on 01243 888691. They can support you and your loved ones for your whole journey with dementia, from pre-diagnosis to end of life care.