This article was created by Hannah Walters who had been inspired to write, as her close friend’s mum had been diagnosed with dementia six months ago.
Hannah herself suffers from SAD (seasonal affected disorder) and it made her wonder how her close friend’s mum was coping during her first winter with dementia. She witnessed how difficult it had been to watch her struggle to come to terms with her diagnosis and decline.
Loneliness and Dementia: Winter Care Strategies
The chilly season is a time when loneliness can become an issue, especially for individuals with dementia. The risk of feeling isolated increases when there are fewer daylight hours and more limited social gatherings due to the cold weather.
At BIADS, we take great pride in offering comprehensive support to both local individuals living with dementia, as well as their loved ones and carers. Winter can be an incredibly challenging time and we have a wealth of resources to help tackle winter loneliness, ranging from informative articles to events and activities.
The link between dementia and feelings of loneliness
The correlation between loneliness and dementia is indicated via a study, of those living alone, 62% of individuals living with dementia feel lonely. Several factors contribute to a sense of isolation, such as reduced social activities or changes in living conditions. The absence of socialisation can lead to cognitive degeneration, increasing a person’s overall symptoms.
To address this grave concern, providing emotional support is key. There is a plethora of strategies to increase meaningful connections without overwhelming people with dementia. Here are some suggestions to start with:
- Sensory experiences
When winter rolls around, it is not always as easy to get outside to feel the breeze of fresh air. Keeping spirits high in dementia patients can be trickier at this time of year, which is why providing experiences that tap into the senses can prevent them from feeling disconnected.
Cooking or listening to music are fantastic examples of sensory activities. These can help evoke fond memories and create a sense of happiness, even if pinpointing the exact association is hazy.
Multi-sensory tasks can be the link between a person’s inner experience and the outside world. This can significantly reduce feelings of loneliness.
- Fulfilling activities are key
Taking part in activities that are both fulfilling and meaningful can increase the cognitive functions of a person with dementia. Not only that, but it gives them a sense of purpose, in turn boosting their mood. Something creative like painting or a light exercise class can be beneficial.
It is also worth researching group activities that align with their individual interests. This will create a sense of connection to these like-minded people.
Doing things that are as engaging, as they are enjoyable will provide valuable cognitive stimulation and get people with dementia moving.
- Organise things to do outdoors
Although we do not associate winter with wanting to go outside, it is actually a beautiful time to explore. By making outside activities a part of an individual’s day-to-day, they will be at one with nature, which will boost their mood.
Why not go for a walk with a friend or neighbour? Or just have a chat with people you see out and about.
Note: not everyone is able to leave the house. If this is the case, position their chair close to the biggest window with a view of the outside. It will still enable them to feel a sense of connection to the outside world and create a sense of warmth.
- Schedule social activities
Carers must prioritise social activities for people with dementia in the winter months. It is a lot harder to do naturally and organised outings are necessary.
During lockdown, it was reported that 82% of those with dementia experienced a decline in brain function.
Anything that provides mental stimulation such as workshops or even our day centre, will offer valuable chances to connect with other people.
- The power of technology
It is a blessing to be living in a technologically advanced society. There are gadgets specifically designed to aid people with dementia. Digital companions and devices help individuals to remember daily activities and important events.
Free video calling services make it easy to speak to loved ones all over the globe with a simple click. Being able to get in touch with people anywhere in, the world can transform the life of someone who is feeling alone.
Notes: keep in mind that not everyone has access to technology or may not know how to use it. It is important to make sure that the right programmes are used for those living with dementia’s needs and abilities.
How to recognise loneliness in people living with dementia?
Being equipped to spot any symptoms of loneliness is paramount as it can greatly affect their mental health. Spotting these early, however, can prove to be challenging, particularly if they are concealing their feelings well.
Pay attention to indicators in their behaviour such as changes in sleeping patterns and appetite. You may also notice them withdrawing when you mention social activities.
If you are concerned, do not be afraid to spark up a conversation with them to explore why they might be feeling this way. By providing, those with the opportunity to speak up you are more likely to get to the bottom of it, even if they are hesitant to begin with.
It is okay to need professional support
It is perfectly understandable that the thought of reaching out for professional help may feel daunting. However, when it comes to the overwhelming emotions that come along with those affected by dementia, it can be life altering.
At BIADS we have services for both our members and their carers meaning no one has to feel alone.
Get in touch with us at 01226 280057 or email us on [email protected]