Loneliness can harm our physical health; it may cause an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, increased inflammatory and increased metabolic responses to stress. Especially during the current times, living through a global pandemic, loneliness can have an impact on everyone. Yet, there is a difference between loneliness and social isolation. Social isolation is when someone does not have enough people around, this could be due to living arrangements or the location and community in which you live. Loneliness is the feeling of alienation. One can feel social isolation but enjoy the solitude and therefore not feel lonely, or they may feel lonely even when surrounded by people. Unfortunately, people living with dementia can feel this loneliness even more. Alzheimer's Society reports that 35% people of living with dementia have felt lonely recently. This blog will discuss the causes of loneliness and the solutions technology can provide.
The link between loneliness and dementia
Poor health, decreased mobility and cognitive impairment all can increase a person's chances of becoming lonely. Not only can dementia increase the likelihood of someone feeling lonely, but loneliness is also considered to be a modifiable risk factor linked to dementia. The Alzheimer Society of Ireland states that loneliness contributes 2.3% of the risk of developing dementia. Many factors can lead to someone with dementia feeling lonely; stigma, support networks, and confidence in activities.
The nature of dementia compounds loneliness. 5% of those with dementia have not told their friends about the diagnosis and ⅓ of those with dementia have said they lost friends because of it. Additionally, face-to-face interaction, when occurring less frequently, can have an impact on the progression of dementia. Face-to-face interaction provides visual and sensory clues that can help people form memories more easily. On top of the challenges that a dementia diagnosis comes with some people do not feel comfortable leaning on friends and the community. Understandably, those that feel this way can become lonely.
As a community, we need to work to reduce the stigma associated with dementia. Becoming more educated can help reduce the stigma, creates strong community support and helps increase the resources available to this population. This creates an environment for those living with dementia to feel more conformable talking about dementia with family, friends and the community.
Decreased confidence to participate in activities
Those with dementia sometimes develop a lack of confidence, making them draw away from doing what they love. In the 2013 UK Alzheimer’s Society report, it was found that 70% of respondents stopped doing the things they used to do because of a lack of confidence. This decrease in confidence can lead to a decrease in independence. People become more concerned about leaving their homes, have increased fear of becoming confused during activities or getting lost.
How can technology help with loneliness?
It is a common misconception that older people are not interested in using new technology. In The Role of Technology in Combating Loneliness and Social Isolation, it was found that older people are willing to utilize technology if it is easy to use and improves their wellbeing. As only 45% of those over 75 speak to two or fewer people in a week, there is a great opportunity to improve the older population’s connectivity to their family and friends. Understandably, face-to-face interaction is preferred, but due to the distance that can occur when people move to new areas, face-to-face interaction can become challenging. A great alternative to this is video calling! 83% of those over 75 have never tried video calling. Video calling is a simple affordable option for people to try. This form of communication gives people the opportunity to have a conversation that is similar to face-to-face interaction.
Staying connected to our loved ones helps to reduce the feeling of loneliness. One technology that is developed with the person at the centre is Mylo. Mylo is just like a new friend that helps you stay connected to your family and friends through video calls. He is voice-activated, making him easy to use. Your family can call you or you can call them, just like a telephone but better because you get to see their smiling faces!
Loneliness can affect everyone. Those with dementia are at an increased risk for feeling lonely. The individual may feel uncomfortable telling their friends about the diagnosis or lose confidence in performing the task and activities they use to enjoy. It is important to educate the community to help remove the stigma associated with dementia. Reducing the stigma and utilising technology to help people stay connected are the first steps of many to improve the lives of our family and friends living with dementia.