One thing you learn early in senior care administration is the importance of socialization. When talking with families, I will remind them that “socialization can be as important as their medication.” That’s the main reason that so many good, dedicated communities for the care of those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias have such a wide variety of activities for their residents. Experts encourage socialization for those with dementia, so let’s look at some of the reasons why.

It supports brain health: Social interaction can help the brain stay healthy. Much like how physical exercise can help people maintain their muscle and bone mass, engaging with other people helps to keep the brain active and functioning efficiently. It also appears that individuals with a strong social network retain more memories than those that are isolated. Furthermore, socialization also appears to slow the progress of cognitive impairment.

It improves focus: Regular socialization and participating in mental activities can help seniors keep their minds sharp. Keeping them focused helps them cope with the tasks of everyday living and functioning.

It strengthens a sense of time and place: Alzheimer’s can leave your loved one disoriented to time and place. Often when confusion occurs, their minds will take them back to a time in their life when they had more clarity, meaning and purpose. This can often explain why they may confuse their son for their husband. After all, they may be looking at them with 30 year old eyes and not those of an 80 year old. By stimulating that part of the brain that regulates time and place, socialization provides a sense of structure.

It generates a stronger sense of inclusion: When your loved one interacts with people, it reinforces their connections and relationships with people. Loneliness is strongly associated with an increased risk of anxiety, stress, insomnia and mood disorders. Developing a strong social circle for your loved one can allow them to enjoy a better quality of life.

With all of this said, this not an invitation to have you overdo it as a caregiver and start taking them places that may upset them. For example, if your loved one gets an invitation to his 60th high school reunion, use your head. Will being around 50 or 100 former classmates all at once be a good idea? Approaching your loved one asking, “Do you remember me?” Hugging them, shaking their hands and asking them to recall things they simply can’t? Remember the problem they have with processing along with the confusion that’s caused by too much stimulation coming at them all at once.

When I was in administration, one of my favorite things to do was to hold a “Reminiscing Social” for men only. We had snacks and “near beer” and it was great fun for me to ask them questions about things they still remembered. Once I asked them all to tell me about their first boss. To my left came the comment, “that miserable S.O.B.” (Something he never would have said in mixed company.) Another favorite was, “Tell me about your first job.” One still very handsome 90-year-old man shared that he worked for a local car dealership teaching the ladies how to drive so they could buy a car while another talked of how he had graduated from junior high school and was bored so he got a job at the local factory. Fifty-five years later he retired from there as a vice president.

The questions you can ask are endless. How did you meet your wife? When did you go to your first baseball, football or hockey game? What was your first car? Did you move a lot? Did you serve in the military?

The key is to keep them engaged and insure they are in familiar places with familiar faces.

Questions? Email me at repeiii@careforcaregivers.org.

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