Socialization is important for everyone; but for those with dementia, it takes on an even more critical role. Socialization provides a controlled, yet varied experience of both human and environmental interaction. Some are intended to spark the senses, such as experiencing a new location or smelling fresh flowers in a garden. Others may involve exposure to new faces in the form of other adults, younger people or even animals. All are important to provide memory impaired individuals with a sense of connectedness.
Socializing helps people living with dementia both physically and emotionally in many ways:
Supports brain health. Engaging with other people helps keep the brain active and to maintain memory and manage emotions. Socialization has even been shown to slow the progression of cognitive impairment.
Provides a feeling of self-worth. Interacting with family, friends and meeting new people gives everyone a sense of personal worth. The process of interacting with others can result in feelings of belonging rather than isolation.
Enhance and maintain focus. Cognitively impaired individuals have more difficulty transitioning between daydreaming and focused states of mind. The more time they spend mentally active and socially engaged, the easier that transition becomes, which helps them to perform daily tasks.
Creates happiness. Dementia is very frustrating for the patient. It is a loss of control and can make a person feel helpless. Some people with dementia will lash out in anger. When a person with dementia is kept active and socializes with others, they are given back control over their thoughts, and this in turn, creates happiness.
For people living with Alzheimer’s and other related dementias, socialization can be a challenge. Some experience increased anxiety, making them uncomfortable about interacting with others. Many feel self-conscious about their memory loss or struggle with language, making social gatherings intimidating. Scheduling social activities can also be difficult for caregivers who may not be sure of the best way to find a safe and supportive social environment for their loved one. This is why the Alzheimers Coachella Valley developed its Club Journey program, which is offered twice a week for persons with dementia and their care partners at no charge.
Losing memories is devastating and many may feel as if the loss of these memories also caused the loss of themselves. Family members can become distant because of the heartbreak that the loss of memory causes. Making sure your loved one is receiving a steady, yet fresh exposure to opportunities for socialization is important to keep them as healthy and connected as possible. Remember, keeping your loved one interactive without causing anxiety is the goal. Do this consistently and you will notice the difference.
Editorial provided by Patricia Riley, board member of Alzheimers Coachella Valley, a community resource for dementia support and education. For more information, call (760) 776.3100 or visit www.cvalzheimers.org.