When was the last time you had a good catch-up with a family member or friend? You might not realise it, but that might have been just what they needed. Even if they seem fine and happy, feelings of loneliness can come on suddenly.
Even with today’s technology and social media, face-to-face interactions are incredibly important. And there are some very simple steps you can take to encourage those close to you if they are feeling isolated, especially if they live with a condition such as dementia.
Dementia: why daily interactions are important
Dementia affects a person’s memory and makes them feel as though they are reliving a past period in their lives. This may be where they used to live in their younger years or recalling certain moments they shared with their friends or family.
While it can be distressing seeing someone you care about struggle with their memories, talking to them and understanding what they are experiencing helps to reassure and comfort them. By showing an interest, you can show a friend or family member with dementia that they are supported.
Daily social interactions can be as simple has chatting over a cup of tea or doing an activity together. And this can still be the case even for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s – in fact it can form an important part of a routine and ease the sense of isolation people can experience because of their condition.
A BBC report followed teenage students in Suffolk who volunteered their time each week to visit residents with dementia at a local care home. Clearly moved by their experiences, the students showed a real desire to give the residents a high level of care – one of them even states that it’s important to “break down the stigma” around dementia. And one of the ways we can do this is, simply, talking and listening.
For the residents themselves, having the students visit them made them “feel more alive”, such was the effect the students had on them. It just goes to show how important social interactions are.
Essential for mental and physical wellbeing
Feeling isolated from loved ones or feeling that there is nobody for them to talk to affects people of all ages and can lead to mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), complied between 2016 and 2017, reveal that around one in 20 adults in England reported feeling lonely either often or always. The figures also suggest that younger people aged between 16 and 24 years reported feeling lonelier than those in older age groups.
Interaction with others, no matter how small, strengthens emotional connections and minimises the sense of not belonging to a community. In fact, according to the ONS, those who felt out of touch with their neighbourhood also reported feeling lonely either “often” or “always”.
The ONS report also highlights that daily interactions are also essential for those living with physical disabilities or recovering from an injury. For the families of those coming to terms with a brain or spinal injury, or a diagnosis of a complex condition, knowing where to find the right support isn’t always easy.
There have been several examples worldwide of care providers and hospitals bringing their customers or patients living with similar conditions to each other, creating a community where people can share their experiences and support each other. Crucially, they can also form close friendships and relationships, which are essential in recovering from serious or life-changing injuries.
This same practise can be applied to those with dementia. Many communities hold art classes and other activities to enable people living with the condition to not only express themselves or rediscover an activity they previously enjoyed, but also engage with their community.
Companionship and home care
Arranging care in the home, as well as ensuring a friend or family member to have care surrounded by their home comforts, also guarantees they will have someone there when they need them.
Live-in care, by its very nature, is 24-hour support, and as a result means that someone will always be there for a loved one to talk to, or help them to visit friends and family members. Consequently, those all-important relationships and connections remain strong.
Though there are chances for people requiring care to engage with others in a residential home or hospice, having the flexibility to choose their activities and when they want to visit other loved ones can make a huge difference to wellbeing. And the support of a dedicated carer, also providing companionship and social interactions themselves, can help make this possible.