For Caregivers: Overcoming Social Isolation

February 21, 2011

Caring for a loved on with dementia can be one of the most socially isolating occupations on the planet.  Let’s face it:  visiting someone with dementia can be awkward.  Most people avoid it.  They don’t know what to say.  Sometimes the person with dementia does or says things that are socially unacceptable.  The caregiver often is uncomfortable, worried about how their loved on will act or what he will say.  Friends and family alike stop visiting.

By the same process, the caregiver can leave home less and less as his loved one requires higher levels of care.  As the disease process progresses, your loved one may only want you, may only remember you and may become agitated when you are gone.  Sitters who will stay with those with dementia are difficult to find, and expensive.  As time goes on, it may become more trouble than it’s worth, or the cost may be prohibitive.

Fewer visits + Decreased ability to get out = social isolation

Just when you need help the most, you have the least access to it.

This situation is difficult to avoid for any caregiver, but especially for a dementia caregiver, because you cannot reason with someone with dementia.  You can’t tell her you’ll be home in a few hours, that you need to get out of the house for a little while or take a vacation.  You can’t tell her not to say or do inappropriate things in front of visitors.

I talked about respite care in an earlier blog.  Dementia daycare is a great option, as is scheduling family members to take turns sitting with your loved one.  Some in-patient facilities offer repite care if they have beds available.

However, if you are at home with your loved one in an area that has no respite available and you have no relatives who are willing or able to help, here are some things you can do to keep social isolation at bay.
For many older people, computers are a way of keeping in touch with old friends and making new ones.  Some companies even offer technology that can allow you to surf the internet, receive e-mail, etc. on your television.  Senior centers, community colleges and faith-based organizations often offer computer classes for older adults.  Check with your local senior agency for options in your area.

Social media sites like Facebook connect people with long-lost friends from around the world.  I myself have re-connected with people I haven’t seen since I was a child, one of whom is living in Greece!  Ask your friends.  Many more of them than you would think use Facebook and other similar sites to keep up with friends and loved ones.  Often, it starts as a way of keeping up with children and grandchildren, but ends up as a social outlet unimaginable a few years ago.

Additionally, there are lots of sites on the internet which forums for caregivers and which allow caregivers to connect and share knowledge with each other.  The sympathy of a person in like circumstances can be a Godsend.

Last, but not least, there is the old-fashioned telephone.  Perhaps you could schedule specific times to call friends just to talk.

For caregivers much more than the rest of us, maintaining social ties takes effort, sometimes more than you may feel you have to give to the task.  You need people to whom you can turn for help, even if only when you need a shoulder (literally or figuratively) to cry on.  At the risk of being repetitive, caregiving is a marathon, not a sprint.  You need not run this race alone.

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3 Responses to “For Caregivers: Overcoming Social Isolation”

  1. Really enjoyed this blog post, can I set it up so I receive an email sent to me every time you make a fresh article?

    • Ellen Potts says:

      We don’t have an e-mail list, but we do announce new blogs, daily Alzheimer’s caregiver tips and other helpful information on our Dementia Dynamics Facebook page. You can also follow us on Twitter, @dementiadynamic and @ewpotts. We have a weekly #AlzChat every Monday at 3pm Eastern / 8 pm in the UK, where we have an open discussion on Alzheimer’s caregiver issues. Thanks for your interest!

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