April 11, 2016 |

Family, friends and Alzheimer’s – The Alzheimer’s Quality of Life Challenge (5 of 6)

Getting old can mean getting lonely. As the later years go by, friends and family pass away or move, communities change, and old, familiar neighborhoods are full of new buildings and streets.

Seniors are sometimes perceived as being “cranky” for protesting the unstoppable passage of time, but these changes can be difficult to process and endure in old age. For seniors with Alzheimer’s, these transformations can be truly frightening and highly disorienting. Therefore, cultivating and maintaining strong family ties and friendships can be immensely important.


Alzheimer’s and Social Support

Social dimensions — family, friends and living arrangements — are important factors to consider for anyone taking care of seniors with Alzheimer’s. Of course, not all seniors are lucky enough to have surviving spouses, friends or family. Some arrive at Alzheimer’s with their social capital almost completely depleted. In fact, about one-third of Alzheimer’s seniors are estimated to live alone, and living alone is associated with feeling lonely on a regular basis. Furthermore, we know that lonely seniors are more likely to decline and die faster. In fact, individuals who are lonely in their later years have been shown to experience a 45 percent increase in their risk for death and a 59 percent greater risk of mental and physical decline than seniors who are more socially active.

There is a great deal of research that highlights the protective and preventative effects of social activity within the Alzheimer’s population. In fact, some researchers suggest that having strong social networks is the most important factor in helping seniors who live on their own cope with their living situation. For example, one study found that seniors who reported satisfaction with their social ties experienced a 23 percent decrease in their risk for dementia, compared to those who were dissatisfied. In addition, individuals who felt they were receiving more than adequate social support were reported as having a 53 percent lower risk for Alzheimer’s. Over half of respondents in another study cited daytime activities and company as the “most frequent unmet needs” in Alzheimer’s seniors living alone.


Building a Strong Social Network

Fortunately, there are effective approaches for helping people with Alzheimer’s build fulfilling social lives. Encourage them to share their feelings, experiences and specific needs and wants. They should feel comfortable asking for help. It might seem self-evident, but simply assuring seniors with Alzheimer’s of their humanity and continued worth can be powerfully reassuring and soothing. Make sure that they are surrounded by people who do not stigmatize them or make unreasonable demands, as these types of negative interactions can have lasting, harmful effects on seniors with Alzheimer’s.

Families cannot do everything for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s. It is important that as many groups as possible get involved in caring for these seniors. This may include help from extended relatives, neighbors, friends or professional caregivers. All of these efforts together will be key in developing and sustaining the positive social lives that seniors with Alzheimer’s need. Caregivers might also consider attending educational programs that focus on effective methods for dealing with behavioral difficulties. In general, developing a better understanding of seniors’ social and emotional needs and enlarging the base of people who can provide appropriate care can lead to more satisfying, healthy lives for individuals in this population.


We’ve almost reached the end of our blog series on Alzheimer’s, but there’s one more area to explore. In our next article, we’ll cover activity and purpose for those with Alzheimer’s. Activities and interests such as exercise, religion and even ordinary tasks like housework can offer internal satisfaction for seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s. As with health and safety, a holistic approach to developing a sense of meaning and purpose later in life can lead to much greater outcomes than a singularly-focused strategy.

The Alzheimer’s Quality of Life Challenge

Home care services that bring a sense of familiarity, support and warmth can offer the benefits that seniors with Alzheimer’s used to experience in previous friendships. On its own, data can’t build these relationships, but it can help caretakers familiarize themselves with the struggles experienced by seniors with Alzheimer’s and respond in effective ways. Join us for SeniorGrowth’s Quality of Life Challenge, and offer the seniors that you serve the high quality of care that they deserve. You can still sign up and participate. Get started by clicking the button below.