Keeping your loved one socially active

Social connections are really important for people living with dementia. Here are some tips to help keep your loved one socially engaged and involved.

Following a diagnosis of dementia, staying social can be a challenge. Maintaining those social connections, however, is good for the brain – and it’s also vital for a sense of self.

“People who are living with dementia, and their carers, do talk about how people fall away from them, partly due to the stigma around dementia,” explains Margaret Ryan, Bupa’s Head of Dementia. “But being connected gives the person a sense of themselves. Who the person is still remains; those needs and desires are still there.”

There are several ways you can help a loved one who is experiencing dementia to stay socially active.

Maintaining those social connections is good for the brain and vital for a sense of self.

Observe what works

Dealing with dementia is a new experience for all of you.

“Learn as you go and watch them closely,” Ryan advises. “They’ll communicate to you, whether that’s in words or how they’re reacting to a situation.”

If an activity is causing frustration or additional stress, consider trying something else, or you can even consider creative ways to change their experience.

Ryan suggests, “Think about how you can adapt an activity around the person’s frustrations with their difficulties, while still giving them the opportunity to participate.”

Think about things the person can still do

Although it’s difficult at times, a sense of empathy can help you to help your loved one.

“As the condition progresses, seek to understand what is happening for the person and then think about how to provide social support,” says Ryan.

She adds that this can mean taking into account their current abilities.

“Rather than stopping them doing an activity they always loved, think about ways you can adapt the experience,” she says. “If someone has loved playing cards every week but they no longer have the ability to do that, can they still take part in the social side?”

Elderly people playing cards

Let them try new things

Giving a loved one who is experiencing dementia the chance to try new things can seem counterintuitive, but it’s important for their wellbeing.

“We can become quite risk averse, wanting to take care of the person and not create any difficulties, but it’s important to give them opportunities,” Ryan says.

Observing the things that provide happiness can help with determining what they’d like to try.

“Allow them to express themselves through things that give them joy, and that includes being socially active,” says Ryan. “If the person expresses a desire to do something, allow them to do it.”

Giving a loved one who is experiencing dementia the chance to try new things ... is important for their wellbeing.

Help others know what's going on

To avoid social isolation, you may need to provide support to those around your loved one by helping them understand what’s happening.

This may include encouraging friends and family to continue talking to the person experiencing dementia.

“Others around them can think there’s no point talking to them because they won’t understand, or they talk across the person, but that causes a lot of frustration,” Ryan explains. “The point is, those social niceties are important, and help make them feel included and comfortable in a social situation.”

Helping these social connections to continue is one of the most important things you can do for your loved one. 

If you would like to speak to a real person about looking after someone living with dementia, call Bupa's Aged Care Support Line.

Bupa aged care support line

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