If you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, encourage them to stay social. When they keep up meaningful relationships and do things they enjoy, it could have benefits beyond lifting their spirits.
It’s important to socialize or be around family and friends even in later stages of Alzheimer’s disease, says Beth Kallmyer, vice president of care and support for the Alzheimer’s Association.
Why Is It Important for Someone With Alzheimer’s to Stay Social?
It can help with feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Both of these can be common when you have Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, Kallmyer says.
When someone with dementia goes through social isolation, it can increase the symptoms of conditions like depression and anxiety and lead to a faster cognitive (brain-related) decline, says Jonathan Graff-Radford, MD, a neurologist with Mayo Clinic.
In some cases, being separated from family and friends can worsen dementia-related behaviors like wandering, aggression, and hallucinations, Kallmyer says.
What Kinds of Social Activities Might Be Helpful for Those With Alzheimer’s?
Group activities or music therapy might improve agitation in people with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, Graff-Radford says. Agitation can include restless behavior, pacing, aggression, or emotional distress.
In general, encourage your loved one to keep doing activities they enjoy for as long as they can, Kallmyer says. As their dementia becomes more advanced, try to adapt those activities in ways that fit their changing abilities. You could also try to help them find new activities that are fun for them and keep them engaged.
If they’re in the early stage of Alzheimer’s, they might get comfort and satisfaction from connecting with other people with early Alzheimer’s, Kallmyer says. The Alzheimer’s Association has early-stage programs across the country. These programs include support groups, education, art, music, and other social activities, she says.
People with early Alzheimer’s can also connect with each other through the Alzheimer’s Association message board, which has a forum for caregivers, too.
What Things Prevent People With Alzheimer’s From Socializing?
It’s not always easy to stay social. For one thing, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to more social isolation, especially for elderly people, Graff-Radford says. The Alzheimer’s Association offers tips to help caregivers and people with dementia lower their chances of getting COVID in a variety of settings while visiting with friends or family.
The stigma of having Alzheimer’s can be difficult to get past, too. People who have an early stage of dementia may also be hesitant to take part in social activities out of fear of making a mistake or having trouble communicating, Kallmyer says.
It’s also possible that once someone gets diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, some of their friends might not want to be a part of their life anymore. Some family members may avoid spending time with them, too -- they may assume their loved one with Alzheimer’s doesn’t enjoy certain activities anymore or prefers to be alone, Kallmyer says.
When things like these happen due to myths and false ideas about Alzheimer’s, some people with the disease feel abandoned, isolated, or misunderstood.
If your loved one has early-stage Alzheimer’s, they can get tips from the Alzheimer’s Association on how to help other people in their life understand what the disease is and what to expect as it gets worse.
You also could encourage them to:
- Tell other people in their life which social activities they feel comfortable doing.
- Ask for help when they need it.
- Focus on strengthening the supportive, trusting relationships they already have.
- Don’t focus on friends or relatives who are negative or can’t show them support. They may need time to adjust to the diagnosis and learn more about Alzheimer’s.
Is Socializing Important If You Don’t Have Alzheimer’s?
A systematic review of research found a link between social relationships and improved cognition (mental processes) in healthy adults 50 and older. Graff-Radford says more research is needed to better understand the link and how significant it is.
Some research shows that social isolation in later life may raise your chances of getting dementia. Another study shows that ongoing loneliness in midlife is also a risk factor for Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Interestingly, the study also suggests recovery from loneliness works to defend against the risk of dementia.
It’s worth keeping this in mind if you’ve lost your spouse or partner because marriage or a long-term relationship is a common way to socialize with someone on a daily basis. Women often outlive their husbands and become widowed, so they’re more likely to be affected by this type of reduced socialization, Graff-Radford says.
If you want to become more socially active, he recommends these tips:
- Say yes to invitations. Or invite friends to meet you for coffee or lunch.
- Make socializing a habit. Set up weekly visits with friends or with children and grandchildren if you have any.
- Volunteer. You might meet people who share your interests.
- Join a group like a book club.