Importance of Maintaining Social Interactions & Activities with Dementia or Alzheimer’s

Last Updated: May 17, 2023


Alzheimer’s disease and dementia can turn someone who is normally social into an introvert. Older adults with dementia might not want to leave the house or resist having friends for visits. Isolation and loneliness harm the brain, so an easy solution for your loved one is to socialize with family, friends, and caretakers. Being around others can improve symptoms and quality of life. In this article, we will look at social activities that help with dementia symptoms and provide tips for having fun and encouraging your loved one to spend time with others.


Alzheimer’s / Dementia and Social Interaction

Alzheimer’s disease can change someone’s personality. Many changes normally take place as the disease progresses, but one noticeable difference is a person’s ability to socialize. Social interaction is healthy and can slow symptoms of dementia including cognitive function and memory loss. Staying socially engaged with friends and family has been shown to relieve stress and boost self-esteem, which for people with dementia can lead to better eating habits, more exercise, and better sleep.

When interaction becomes challenging because of the progression of your loved one’s dementia. They may want to be alone because thinking has become more challenging but getting out and carrying on conversations forces the brain to be active. Someone with dementia might spend time daydreaming, inside their head, and become withdrawn.

Human interaction grounds a person because we are social creatures. Someone with dementia is prone to losing track of time. This makes them not understand the world around them. Social contact can help maintain a sense of reality.

 Did You Know? Scientists have proven that there is a relationship between loneliness and Alzheimer’s disease. Studies show that people who are lonely are at a higher risk of developing dementia. Frequent participation in social events decreases the odds of developing the disease.


Understanding the Problem

Alzheimer’s affects someone socially because, in addition to memory loss and other medical problems, a common symptom is an anxiety. An anxious person is less likely to want to be social and may dread interacting with others. Caretakers must consider the feelings of their loved ones while still encouraging socialization. Make being around other people as easy as possible. It is best explained by researchers at Queen’s University in Canada saying, “Many AD (Alzheimer’s disease) patients sense that their cognitive impairment isolates them from other people leading to anxiety, depression, societal withdrawal, and decreased self-confidence. Manipulating the social environment around AD patients may help them regain a sense of self-worth and a better attitude toward life. This may improve eating and exercise habits and social interaction, which may result in improved AD prognosis.”

Interacting with people who have dementia can be hard for friends and family who know what the person was like before the disease. At times, it can be difficult to know what to say or how to interact with a loved one who might not recognize something or someone anymore. To learn more about communicating with people with dementia, or how to help prepare others for socializing with your loved one, look at the suggestions below and visit our page on communication.


Solutions for Improving Social Interactions for Persons with Dementia

At Home

Understanding the problem and planning a solution is essential to help improve your loved one’s quality of life. The following are tips for making socializing easier so it is beneficial for them.

Stay Yourself
Living as normally as one can for as long as possible is important for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Maintain a social calendar until your loved one is no longer able to. Think of easy and fun ideas like lunch dates or game nights.

The Right Time
Plan social visits for the time of day when your loved one feels best, not when it is most convenient for the visitor. A common phenomenon for people with mid to late-stage Alzheimer’s is sundowning, or late-day confusion. If your loved one suffers from sundowning, do not have visitors later in the day.

The Right Place
Busy settings full of noise and people are often stressful for someone with dementia. Visits should occur in environments that are calm, quieter, and uncluttered.

Be Prepared
Make sure that friends and family have appropriate expectations. Explain the nature of the disease and what changes to expect. Prepare an activity that can be shared during a visit, like singing a song (more on the benefits of music therapy), looking through old photo albums, or taking a walk. This can give your loved one something to focus on. Prepare your loved one by showing them pictures of whoever is visiting.

Know How to Interact
Let visitors know they should “go with the flow,” and:
– Speak softly.
– Talk slowly and avoid quick phrases.
– Be prepared for emotional outbursts, and don’t respond angrily.
– Maintain eye contact
– Identify the person with dementia by name, to let them know when they’re being addressed.
– Prepare to repeat what is being said.
– Use common words or phrases.
– Use props or point to objects, if it is necessary.
– Be prepared for periods of forgetfulness and confusion.
– Look interested in what is being said.

Say Thank You
Remind visitors they remain vital to your loved one, even as the symptoms of dementia make interactions more difficult. Taking time to thank visitors is a way to show them that they are appreciated.

Play Games
Several fun games are accessible for people with dementia. Board games and video games are encouraged and studies have shown that they can help with symptoms like depression and memory loss. For advice on which games are best for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or related illness, see Ways to Have Fun with Someone with Dementia below.


Adult Day Care

Have you ever considered adult daycare? These are places where your loved one can go for a few hours daily. There are medical professionals and other seniors who can spend quality time together socializing. Unlike residential memory care which is specifically designed to support the needs of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, adult daycare staff may not have specific training. There are adult day cares that do cater to the specialized needs of dementia patients and are commonly referred to as Alzheimer’s day treatment centers. Always make sure to double-check how socialization is promoted so your loved one can receive the maximum benefit possible. Adult daycare can bill in half-day increments making it accessible and sensitive to your loved one’s schedule. Transportation services like a bus or shuttle may also be available.

The benefits of finding a good adult daycare can be huge for both you and your loved one. This can be a nice change of pace and a way to get your loved one interacting with others. For more on adult day care, including how to pay, click here.


Memory Care

Alzheimer’s and dementia are progressive diseases meaning they worsen over time. At a certain point, in the middle to later stages of the disease, it becomes beneficial to let professionals take care of your loved one. Memory care facilities provide room and board along with full-time supervision and medical care. The staff has undergone dementia training enabling better socialization, communication, and life skills which help improve the quality of life of those with Alzheimer’s. For more on memory care, including how to pay, click here.

 Did You Know? Free assistance is available to help families find memory care residences that match their loved one’s needs and budget. Click here to get help


Ways To Have Fun with Someone with Dementia

We know that it is beneficial for someone who has dementia to socialize with others, but the golden question is what enjoyable activities can they specifically do? Singing and listening to music have been shown to help with symptoms along with looking through old photo albums. These can stimulate memories in specific regions of the brain. Something even more fun is playing games. As technology advances, people with dementia have a rising number of gameplay options.

Video Games

Easy-to-play video games for the iPad or other types of tablets are becoming more accessible for people who would not normally be interested in gaming. Evidence-based activities like playing on a tablet can improve executive functions for people with dementia. This includes functions like organization and planning.

Take a moment to think about a video game about cooking. While playing, different regions of the brain are activated as players simulate tasks associated with making food. Studies have shown that people with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease who played games saw a cognitive benefit.

Other games that help people with dementia include:

Cognifit. This game assesses memory and other thinking skills and then provides simple games to help train those parts of the brain.

Mindmate. This game combines games with exercise, videos, and recipes.

More apps that are suitable for people with dementia. Video games typically considered suitable for kids can be good for older adults with dementia. Game systems like the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect let players take turns acting out the motions for games like bowling and tennis. These movements, simplicity, and one-turn-at-a-time gameplay have been demonstrated to increase independence and learning ability for people with cognitive impairment.


Board Games and Puzzles

It might seem like they would be too difficult for someone with dementia, but board games can help improve thinking skills. One study found that regularly playing Bingo improved dementia patients’ scores on naming and recognition tests. Bingo games can be purchased to play at home, and there are even free online Bingo apps for tablets. If your loved one is in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia, it might also be fun to venture out into the community and play a game of Bingo with other older adults.

There are lots of other tabletop game options that are appropriate for people with dementia. Picking something that has colorful boards and pieces, especially larger pieces that are easy to handle. Try checkers, chutes and ladders, or dominoes. Simple card games like blackjack and war can also be fun to play with people with dementia. Large print playing cards are a good idea if your loved one has difficulty seeing them.

Jigsaw puzzles are another good idea, especially ones with fewer than 500 pieces. Remember, make this easy on your loved one, and make sure no pieces are missing before you begin.

 Do Not Forget Exercise. One of the best things a person with dementia can do to manage their symptoms is to exercise regularly. It can also be fun! For tips on how to find appropriate activities for older adults with dementia and how to encourage participation,  click here.


Memory Care/Dementia Cafes

Memory care or dementia cafes are a support group community for you and your loved one. There are in-person and virtual options available. These are spaces that are normally open once a month where friends, family members, patients, and medical professionals are encouraged to support each other. People can socialize, participate in dementia-friendly activities, and share experiences. By attending support gatherings there are benefits for both caregivers and patients alike. Patients are helped by meeting people with similar memory loss conditions. Here they can socialize, which reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation. Additionally, they can participate in activities that stimulate the brain and memory function. Caregivers have multiple benefits from attending dementia cafes. They provide extra tips and education on dementia. This helps by improving ways to cope, care for, and support your loved one’s symptoms and behaviors of the disease. Networking also allows caregivers to be heard so they are supported and do not burn out. A community like this is beneficial for all because it is a place to bring people together who have a shared experience where there is a sense of support and togetherness. For help finding a memory cafe in your area, do a Google search using the term “dementia cafes+your area” or contact your local Alzheimer’s association.