There was a study done that indicates that there may be a link to loneliness and the increased incidence of developing dementia. They have described the link as “tentative”. However they have also noted that of those people with dementia, they were often lonely, as the disease made them feel isolated, even within the community in which they live. The study found that 10% of people with dementia meet up with their friends and family less than once a fortnight, so in a two week period they might only see one other person! A study showed that “loneliness leads to poorer physical and mental health”.
Loneliness is not about being alone, time spent in contemplative solitude is good for well-being, but loneliness is “the perception of being alone and isolated that matters most” and is “a state of mind”. “Inability to find meaning in one’s life”, “Feeling of negative and unpleasant” and “A subjective, negative feeling related to the deficient social relations” “A feeling of disconnectedness or isolation.”.
When people who are then alone seek medical help, with no-one to advocate for them, particularly if they are confused and forgetful, it is easy to understand how they might be treated as a generic old person with dementia. But even people who do not have family are not just a generic person, they have likes and dislikes, they have a story and have lived a unique life. They will have opinions on lots of things, including how they want to be treated, even if that opinion is that they don’t really care between option A and option B, expressing it is still a valid opinion.
When people struggle to communicate and there is little other information, the healthcare professionals treat them as best that they can. They might lack the background knowledge to treat them anything other than a generic person and give the clinical perspective.
The compassionate way to treat all people, including lonely people with dementia is as individualistic as possible. And always with dignity and kindness. These people with dementia might be teachers, s/heroes, shop workers, doctors, refuse collectors, nurses, rocket scientist, cooks or any one of a thousand other attributes. But as well as what they did for a living, they might also be home makers, parents, pet owners, gardeners, poets, artists or a thousand other things. They might have loved swimming or TV sport or music or travel or learning languages or wine tasting or knitting or a thousand other things.
Whatever they once were and whatever and whoever they loved, they are still humans, just like we are. We are all humans. Some of us are doing OK today and don’t need a lot of help and support and on other days we do. These are their days to need help and support. And compassion in their time of dementia.