When a family member is diagnosed with dementia, some often wonder whether they should share the diagnosis with friends or other family members.
Andrea Korsunsky, Director of Seniors At Home’s Center for Dementia Care, says, “Many families feel that they are breaking confidentiality or trust when disclosing information about their loved one’s cognitive impairment with friends and other family members, but it’s likely they’ve already noticed a change in behavior and are just unsure of how to stay connected and involved.”
A dementia diagnosis does not mean an end to socialization. In fact, socialization is needed more than ever. Studies show that loneliness and isolation contribute to the progression of dementia.
With this in mind, it might be a good idea to make social arrangements on behalf of your loved one in order to prevent social isolation.
Andrea offers 6 tips to aid social planning.
- Identify and enlist friends or family members with strong connections to your loved one. Set a time to speak privately to the friend or family member. Let them know that they’ve been chosen because of their close relationship to your loved one. If you don’t want to share too much, consider saying, “As (family member) is getting older, they need a little more help planning their activities.”
- Help with the schedule and plan. Decide whether or not you want the social engagement to feel spontaneous. If so, the friend/ family member could contact your loved one and suggest a date. In the meantime, you could ensure that the calendar is clear. No matter the extent that you’re involved, the key is that the arrangement feels authentic and comfortable for your loved one.
- Help choose the location. People with cognitive impairment can easily become overstimulated, which can lead to agitation and stress. Consider choosing a meeting place that is familiar and relatively quiet. Sometimes the best visits occur at home. Going for a walk, if the loved one is able, can offer a nice change of scenery and some exercise. If they can’t go for a walk, perhaps they would enjoy going for a short car ride.
- Provide structure and set some ground rules. It’s important to be clear about your family’s needs. Let the friend/ family member know that what’s most needed now are visits with your loved one. If the word “dementia” is upsetting to your loved one, let the visitor avoid using the word. Suggest some conversation starters about pleasant or interesting topics. Perhaps the visitor can bring a magazine with an interesting article to discuss, or a photo of a mutual friend and some good news about how they’re doing. Try some of these suggestions for engaging with a loved one with dementia.
- Check in after the first visit. If things went well for both parties, consider scheduling regular visits once a week or month.
- Augment visits with other activities. If you haven’t already, investigate local senior centers or clubs, where people meet for exercise, crafts or socializing. Often such centers offer social and health-related activities as well as transportation options.
Andrea emphasizes, “Social isolation is a serious health issue for many seniors, especially those with dementia. Don’t hesitate to enlist others to help with visits and check-ins, and to let them know what you need.”
Seniors At Home Center for Dementia Care specializes in in-home support for people experiencing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, as well as practical and emotional assistance for families. Together with our Skyview Day Club and the new Memory Café, Seniors At Home offers a variety of dementia support, respite care, and activities.
To learn more about how Seniors At Home can support an older adult in your life, call 415.449.3700 or contact us online.