It can be hard to keep up a friendship when one person develops dementia, but it’s worth the effort
By Katrina Caruso
More than half a million Canadians live with dementia—564,000 people, according to the Alzheimer Society of Canada. In 15 years, the Society says, that number will be 937,000, as 25,000 Canadians are diagnosed with the condition every year.
Dementia affects a person’s cognitive abilities, memory, and possibly speech. These changes and changes in behaviour can make the person affected seem very different, and family and friends often feel a sense of loss.
In an online survey the Alzheimer Society conducted in November 2017, 61% of Canadians with personal experience of dementia said that someone with dementia is likely to be ignored or dismissed by others. Yet research has shown that social interaction is good for people with dementia and can strengthen their sense of self and identity, and according to Janelle S. Taylor, a medical anthropologist at the University of Washington, maintaining a friendship with someone with dementia can be good for you, too.
In an article published in the journal Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry, Taylor described her research, which was based on interviews with friends and family of people with dementia. She found that talking about dementia, which may be uncomfortable for some, can have a ripple effect in the community and help to improve understanding of the condition and reduce the stigma and loneliness associated with it. She found that “people find value, interest, meaning, and pleasure in friendships with people who are living with dementia.” Taylor also looked at ways in which people could use the arts as a starting point to engage with their friends with dementia.
While it’s normal to experience grief at the loss of the relationship one once had, there can be a gift in learning to nurture a new relationship. “People I interviewed describe friendship with the person who has dementia as a relationship that is capable of changing, rather than simply enduring,” Tayor wrote.
While there is currently no cure for dementia, maintaining a friendship with someone with dementia can be positive for both people. According to some research, elderly people who experience loneliness are more likely to develop dementia, so hold your loved ones closer, whether they have dementia or not.