With Valentine's Day quickly approaching, many people overlook the fun, slightly made up holiday, Galentine's Day! Galentine's day, on February 13th, is a day to celebrate female friendship. My Galentine this year? My Grandma, who I have always called "Nanny".
You see, we've been kickin it since the 90's. My Nanny has seen me through some pretty rough times, including an obsession I had with the colour lime green from ages 9-10. She dealt with it like any grandmother would, lovingly and with acceptance. Although now that I come to think of it, she also loved the colour green. Maybe a secondary lesson here is friends don't let friends wear lime green?
I really value my friendship with my Nanny. She was the epitome of a good friend growing up: kind, funny, and trustworthy. Nanny had her own solid group of female friends who I looked up to, they visited each other often, sharing laughs and a cup of tea.
Some of Nanny's friends still nurture their friendship, visiting her often in her long-term care home. Our family is so grateful for these good friends of hers. However, when an individual is diagnosed with dementia, they often lose many close friends, who struggle to continue to connect with them as they live with dementia. 44% of individuals with dementia report losing all or most of their friends in the first year of their diagnosis and 66% of individuals with dementia admit to feeling isolated.
So what makes maintaining friendships with individuals with dementia so hard? It is hard to understand dementia unless you are living with it, and many friends take mistakes due to memory loss personally. Forgetting shared memories can be disheartening, and at times friends find it difficult to navigate the many changes their friend with dementia is going through. It is important to remember that your friend is still there, and your presence alone can be a comforting way to engage.
What are some practical ways for friends to continue nurturing friendships? Remember that any activity that stimulates the senses will bring pleasure. Activities as simple as a genuine hug, listening to music together or drinking tea are a great place to start. Tap into past shared interests when you are able, and use prompts to encourage conversation. Although language and communication will change throughout the dementia process, the desire to communicate does not. Giving your friend attention, even when it feels one-sided, is still spending time together in the presence of a friend.
Taking the time to spend time with friends with dementia is a great gift for the individual with dementia, their care partners and yourself. It is the simple things in life that often bring the greatest joy. A quote I love is, "A strong friendship doesn't need daily conversation or being together. As long as the relationship lives in the heart, true friends are never apart."
If you're reading this and have a friend with dementia, I encourage you to pay them a visit. You won't regret it, I never do!
Do you have experience with maintaining friendships with individuals with dementia? Leave us a comment below, we'd love to hear your perspective.