5 ways to support and stay connected with someone living with dementia

Excerpt: Supporting and connecting meaningfully with someone living with dementia can make a vital positive difference and help overcome isolation in normal circumstances and in pandemic situations. You can stay connected to a loved one with dementia by making regular video calls, delivering special care packages, and visiting in person as restrictions permit. Encouraging them to listen to their favourite music and go for regular walks can enhance daily life too.

September is World Alzheimer’s Month and September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day.* People living with dementia and their families have been dealing with even more stress than usual during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Staying meaningfully connected to family, friends and others makes a vital positive difference to the well-being of people living with dementia and helps to ensure they don’t feel isolated both in normal circumstances, and when visitor restrictions are in place in pandemic situations,* according to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

When you support someone with dementia by connecting meaningfully and communicating regularly, it’s reassuring for your loved one and can ease your stress and anxiety too,* suggests the Alzheimer Society of Calgary.

Here are some simple, effective ways to support and connect with a family member living with dementia:.

  1. Schedule regular video calls.
    Face-to-face contact through video calls can help increase social engagement and emotional wellness for older adults, including people with dementia,* even more effectively than telephone calls or letters, according to a BMC Geriatrics study. Retirement residence staff can help to set up and facilitate video calls and other virtual visits with family and friends.

  2. Drop off care packages.
    Supplement virtual and in-person visits with goodie packages that could include photos, tasty snacks, puzzles, magazines, DVDs of old movies, flowers, or drawings from grandchildren.*

  3. Visit in person safely.
    Take advantage of current opportunities for family members to visit someone in a retirement residence, following the safety rules and procedures required for visitors. When you meet in person or connect virtually, share happy memories, speak calmly and reassuringly, and be mindful that you’re not conveying your own anxieties and worries to your loved who may pick up on your positive or negative emotions.*

  4. Share personalized music.
    The Alzheimer Society of Canada provides MP3 players loaded with personalized music to people living with dementia.* Listening to music they love reconnects people with dementia with the soundtrack of their lives and has the potential to increase their physical and social activities, improve mood, thinking, communication and quality of life.*

  5. Encourage physical activity.
    Walking regularly is a great form of exercise that benefits someone with dementia by producing endorphins, which promote feelings of happiness, and burning up adrenalin triggered by stress and frustration.* Exercise also promotes a healthy appetite, boosts energy levels, and improves sleep. * Walking doesn’t have to be vigorous, strenuous or structured, and walking with the person when you visit can benefit both of you.

Chartwell Retirement Residences seeks to support older adults living with dementia and their families through their memory care and memory living programs. Some Chartwell retirement communities are equipped with dedicated and secure neighbourhoods, where residents and their spouses can comfortably live, and trained caring staff can help them to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives.

*The following sources are references for this blog in order of appearance:

1. Alzheimer’s Disease International. “September is Alzheimer’s Month.” (2020), online: https://www.worldalzmonth.org/#:~:text=World%20Alzheimer%27s%20Month%20is%20the%20international%20campaign%20by,Alzheimer%27s%20Day%20is%20on%2021%20September%20each%20year.

2. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. “COVID-19: Tips for supporting people with dementia.” (2020), online: https://health.sunnybrook.ca/covid-19-coronavirus/tips-for-supporting-people-with-dementia/

3. Alzheimer Society of Calgary. “Supporting a loved one living with dementia in a care home during pandemic.” (2020), online: https://www.alzheimercalgary.ca/news/2020/4/16/supporting-loved-one-living-dementia-care-home-during-pandemic

4. BMC Geriatrics. “Video-calls to reduce loneliness and social isolation within care environments for older people: an implementation study using collaborative action research.” (2018), online: https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-018-0746-y

5. Alzheimer Society of Canada. “Alzheimer Society Music Project.” (2020), online: https://musicproject.ca/

6. Alzheimer Society of Canada. “Finding suitable activities.” (2017), online: https://alzheimer.ca/en/Home/Living-with-dementia/Day-to-day-living/Staying-active/Finding-suitable-activities