The Connection Between Dementia and Loneliness
We all feel lonely from time to time. Indeed, loneliness may actually help us to experience self-reflection and appreciation for people in our lives. However, research suggests that social isolation can lead to chronic loneliness which can be harmful. There can be fallout that has a negative effect on the quality of life, especially for people living with dementia who may have difficulty communicating. Furthermore, loneliness may increase the risk of developing dementia, which is why it also creates a challenging situation for the family caregiver.
Some of the research yields surprising and shocking results about the effect of loneliness.
Loneliness and social isolation are harmful to our health: Research shows that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Loneliness also can lead to or worsen chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, and is associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke. Lonely people are also more prone to depression and cognitive decline.
Academic research is clear that preventing and alleviating loneliness is vital to enabling older people to remain as independent as possible. So what can we do to protect ourselves and our loved ones? Here are ways for older people to connect with others:
Take every chance to smile at others or begin a conversation. If you're shy or not sure what to say, try asking people about themselves or make polite chit chat. For instance, this could be with the cashier at the shop or the person next to you in the doctor’s waiting room.
Invite friends for tea. If you're feeling down and alone, it's tempting to think nobody wants to visit you. But, often, friends, family and neighbors would appreciate receiving an invitation to come and spend some time with you.
Keep in touch by phone. Having a chat with a friend or relative over the phone can be the next best thing to being with them. Some communities also have telephone conversation services that employ volunteers who call people for a friendly check-in. You can contact your local Area Agency on Aging to see if this service is available.
Learn to love computers. If your friends and family live far away, a good way to stay in touch, especially with grandchildren, is by using a computer, smartphone or tablet. You can share emails and photos with family and friends, have free video chats using services such as Skype or FaceTime, and make new online "friends" or reconnect with old friends on social media sites such as Facebook.
Get involved in local community activities. These events will vary according to where you live, but chances are you'll have access to clubs like a singing group, book clubs, bingo or trivia nights and faith groups.
There is no time like the present to be creative with socializing and staying active in your life, whether it’s with friends and family or by exploring new opportunities to get involved in your local community. Staying connected is the most important tool we have for great quality of life.