Social isolation is all too common for those with dementia

Feeling alone can affect an Alzheimer's diagnosis and a patient's quality of life

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by Ray Burow |

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Most often, people diagnosed with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease exhibit symptoms in their mid-to-late 60s. Early-onset Alzheimer’s disease can appear as early as 30, though thankfully, that’s rare.

By the time someone reaches 60, they have many life experiences with family, friends, and acquaintances. They often anticipate a well-lived life in the horizon and finally reaching retirement age, often accompanied by greater freedom and flexibility. But then, for too many, there’s Alzheimer’s disease. It’s an understatement to say that’s a letdown.

There’s still life to live, however, and friends, family, and caregivers are integral to living the best life possible after a diagnosis.

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Interaction plays a role in dementia

A fourth of all Americans 65 and older who live in communities are still socially isolated, according to a 2020 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report. Older adults, in fact, are often plagued by loneliness. If they find themselves socially isolated as well, the risk of dementia increases by 50%.

I’m convinced that isolation didn’t contribute to my mother’s dementia diagnosis, however. She had a full and vibrant life before the disease, involving many friends and family. She volunteered and served on one or two nonprofit boards with my father. She loved children; even before having grandchildren, kids in the neighborhood and at church clung to her. After her diagnosis, she remained busy and involved, especially in the early stages of the disease.

Socializing alone may not keep loneliness at bay

Following my father’s passing, my mother probably felt isolated; at the least, she was lonely, which was expected. Of course, she was lonely for her love of 50-plus years, but the loss may have caused her to feel isolated as well, even in a noisy house full of family. I should’ve made that connection, but I can’t say that I did at the time.

We ran here and there, and Mom was always right with us. She was a fixture on the soccer field and in the stands at basketball games. She continued to enjoy attending church and family dinners and having visitors, but I didn’t grasp that she missed interacting with people around her age. She didn’t voice it, and maybe she didn’t even realize it. If one of us asked if she felt lonely, she’d reply, “Lonely. What do I have to be lonely about?”

The noise and full house masked her isolation.

Interrupting isolation

My mother-in-law came to visit each year, and my mother looked forward to her arrival. “When is Shirley coming?” she’d ask. Her question cued me into how isolated she felt. Shirley was her friend, someone of similar age and life experiences. They shared children, grandchildren, and memories. My mother couldn’t recall many of those memories, but the kinship she never forgot.

Mom enjoyed her family, and we enjoyed her, but interacting with the flow of people coming in and out of the house didn’t totally eliminate her isolation. Interactions with her peer, however, dismantled it.

Caregivers do their best to interact with loved ones with dementia. Such interaction is vital, but don’t expect it to conquer isolation totally.

To a degree, cognitive loss also isolates our loved ones because it places an unseen barrier between them and us. Adjusting how we interact is imperative. If possible, solicit your loved one’s longtime friends for that purpose. Invite them for visits. And note that as our loved ones age, it’s possible they outlive their good friends; in such cases, or even before then, perhaps a nearby senior center or other nonprofit can help. Some community churches offer activities for those 65+, too.

If possible, seek out those places where your loved ones can interact with their peers. Any opportunity can help.

Do you notice your loved one becoming less interactive and more isolated? Please leave a comment below.

Note: Alzheimer’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Alzheimer’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Alzheimer’s disease.


Ann Guttman avatar

Ann Guttman

Thank you


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