It seems this 21st century disease is impacting us all. It crosses countries, socio-economic status, gender, ethnicity and more. Indiscriminate, the new diagnosis rate of dementia in Canada each year is 25,000 people, 65% of whom are woman. Not just seniors, current statistics tell us 16,000 Canadians UNDER the age of 65 are also currently living with dementia. That means there’s a pretty good chance you know (or will know) someone with dementia. What often gets lost in the shuffle of facts and figures is that it isn’t just family affected by this disease, often friends are too. At Amintro, we’re all about making friends and that’s why today we’re talking about the impact of dementia on friendships.
Not long ago we bumped into some “regulars” who frequent the same coffee shop we do, a husband and wife and their friend. This most recent visit, the friend wasn’t around and when we asked they shared the devastating news that the friend had been placed into care as a result of advanced dementia. We often think about the spouse during a difficult time like this but rarely extend sympathy to friends. Yet this couple was bereft. The loss of a friend is hard enough but when in effect you are losing them twice (once to the institution and later, to the inevitable) it can be especially difficult. Family will flood a spouse with support: food, hugs and help – but who helps the friend?
With 9 different strains of the disease, dementia can take a toll on a friendship long before “worst-case scenarios” happen. Dementia in scope can mean anything from a mild cognitive impairment to the eventual loss, not just of memory but also most motor function, speech, and eventually even the ability to swallow. Combined for some with significant behavioural changes, it can make the disease even harder to understand and empathy difficult to come by. In some cases, it might even ruin friendships before anyone realizes the underlying cause for a change in personality.
What can you do to support a friend?
- Pack your patience – let your friend be your guide as you patiently listen to their story, even when rambling or repetitive.
- Gently redirect – if you’re concerned about actions or behaviour, redirection vs. attempting to reason or forcefully imposing change is always the better option.
- Be empathetic – many are afraid to even use words like Alzheimer’s or Dementia for fear of being stigmatized. The cancer patient isn’t losing weight on purpose neither is the dementia patient lashing out in anger just to hurt you.
- Offer assistance to the spouse of your friend – sometimes when disease strikes we bombard the family with food, offers of support, drives to and from treatment and more. A dementia diagnosis, sadly, often results in the opposite happening. Friends and family pull away. They aren’t sure how to support so they don’t end up supporting at all. Be there for a friend. Cooking a meal can be a challenge while constantly monitoring the actions of a wandering dementia patient and is just as valuable as an offer of food to the family caring for a cancer patient.
How do we support friends?
At Amintro we help connect friends with common interests the 21st century way – using the computer! Simple to use, completely confidential, we use a questionnaire to help us better understand what you are looking for in a friend then compare those results to others in our extensive data bank that live in your community. You’ll both receive a notification of a potential match and the rest is up to you! Be a good friend to those around you or if you’re looking for a new friend – Amintro can help.