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Seniors with dementia are at a higher risk of social isolation and depression if they don't have the support of loved ones. According to the Alzheimer's Association, research has shown that people who are regularly engaged in social interactions and activities are also better able to maintain healthy cognitive functions. If you have elderly relatives who have been diagnosed with dementia, here are five reasons to ensure that they stay active and social.
1. Loneliness has been linked to cognitive decline.
Research has found links between cognitive impairment and loneliness. According to AARP, one recent study by researchers at Southern California Kaiser Permanente Medical Group found that people who have more support in their lives have a lower chance of developing memory-loss symptoms. The study surveyed 2,249 elderly women over the course of four years, focusing on the amount of social support they had on a day-to-day basis. The results showed that those who had larger social networks were 26 percent less likely to develop dementia than the participants with smaller social circles.
"If you stay connected, you have a better shot [at avoiding cognitive decline]," said Valerie Crooks, clinical trials administrative director at Southern California Kaiser Permanente Medical Group and lead author of the study. "Whenever we have even the most basic exchange, we have to think about how to respond, and that stimulates the brain. There are people who are outliers, who have two very close relationships and are fine cognitively. But people who have three or more relationships tend to do better."
2. Mental stimulation can have physical benefits.
Social interactions often lead to many additional healthily lifestyle changes. For example, the University of Rochester Medical Center explained that increased social activity among seniors has the potential to lower blood pressure and reduce their risk of cardiovascular problems and various forms of arthritis. This is usually because those who are socially engaged are also more physically active and are more likely to maintain a nutritious diet. Social activities can also help people reduce stress and anxiety, which is what ultimately leads to lower blood pressure levels.
3. Being social helps seniors avoid mental health conditions.
People who are frequently engaged in activities with friends or family, or who have someone reliable to talk to often have a more positive outlook than those who don't. Participating in hobbies and activities with others can also help them find pleasure in life when things get difficult. The Alzheimer's Society noted that remaining socially active may improve sleep quality as well. This is important, as getting a good night's rest is key to avoiding conditions like depression and anxiety, which people with dementia tend to be more vulnerable to.
4. Social support helps seniors maintain their independence.
Social isolation frequently leads to depression and a myriad of other mental health issues like anxiety that increase the amount of extra support seniors need. The Alzheimer's Society explained that when people don't have the opportunity to express their feelings and emotions to others, this results in frustration that may cause further alienation from friends and family. Being surrounded by friends and individuals they can trust increases self confidence and sense of purpose. This is why many people experiencing memory loss move to a dementia care community where they have the full-time support of a caregiver and the opportunity to partake in a variety of events and social gatherings on a daily basis.
5. It can be beneficial to communicate through activities.
The Alzheimer's Society pointed out that it's not uncommon for people in the later stages of dementia to show a behavior or need through an action. For example, they may tap or move their feet across the floor for a number of reasons, whether this means they're frustrated or excited. If this is the case, talk to them while playing music or dancing. This will encourage self expression and can be very soothing for them if they were upset. They'll also benefit from the communication if you talk to them frequently while doing daily tasks like sweeping or cooking. Although they may not respond, listening and interpreting what you're saying will stimulate the brain.