Our family, neighbors, and friends who accompany us through ups and downs of life form our social network. Social network also includes our acquaintances from our neighborhoods e.g., uber drivers that we frequently share rides with, cashiers at various stores, cafe owners, staff at gym, doctors, and people we meet in various activity clubs. We look forward to our interactions with people in our social networks and our connection with our social network enriches our life.
Research conducted in various countries including the US has proven that, the more involvement in social activities in later life, lesser is the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, persons with dementia with larger social networks were less likely to show cognitive impairments in working memory, an ability to remember things for seconds as we process them or memory span. Individuals with larger social networks are less depressed and thereby less likely to have cognitive decline or dementia.
Most persons with dementia know the significance of maintaining their social network, but face considerable challenges in staying in touch with their network. Social stigma associated with dementia presents the biggest challenge. Often family and friends begin to “drift” once they hear about the diagnosis of dementia. Many are reluctant to hear about the experiences of persons living with dementia. Another reason that impairs the connection with social network is moving to a different location. When persons with dementia are not able to age in place (need to move closer to adult children), their social network breaks down.
Increasingly, older adults are using online platforms, social media to stay in touch with their friends and family. A recent survey reported over 30% of seniors (age 65+) actively use social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Over half of the seniors who have a college degree or a smartphone report using social media. But as the cognitive decline begins to occur, persons with dementia find difficult to cope with the changes in social media platform (e.g., I cannot find the “log out” button on my account).
For continued involvement with the social network, dementia-friendly communities have various social initiatives. Some cafe owners have “memory cafes” where persons with dementia come together in afternoons to enjoy tea or coffee. This activity has encouraged other businesses such as pubs, restaurants to have dedicated times for persons with dementia. Many memory care living facilities have “weekly dinners” where family, friends, and members of local community are invited to spend time with persons with dementia.
In order to enable persons with dementia to use social networking sites, various technological options are available. For some individuals, a simplified tablet such as AARP’s RealPad may be an option while some individuals may benefit from the use of simplified websites such as “Facebook Light” available in Norway. For some seniors giving family members the remote access to their laptops may be the best solution. To summarize, dementia friendly communities realize the significance of staying connected online for persons with dementia.
At AlzCare Labs, social networks are valued and seen as an extension of oneself. We are developing products that will help persons with dementia stay connected with their social network. We are also developing a digital platform to connect. To stay in touch with us, email us at email@example.com.