I recently sat down with Mike Gentry, Senior Vice President of Care and Life Guidance®, to talk about the role social interaction plays in helping those who are living with memory impairment.
ASL: Does an active social life have a positive impact on people with memory impairments? In what way?
MG: Long-standing research suggests that people with a history of untreated clinical depression are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. The saying, “The brain loves company,” comes to mind. So yes, being around other people – being socially engaged – definitely has a positive influence on dementia and depression.
ASL: Why is social interaction so important to productive memory care?
MG: Studies have shown that social interaction is the best therapy for dementia care. It has value in the treatment for dementia because when a person with dementia feels that they’re surrounded by friends and family, they feel free to be more active. This freedom helps fight depression and builds their confidence and self-esteem. It makes them feel comfortable.
We’ve seen that when Life Guidance residents feel comfortable and more connected, it leads to less challenging behaviors; they are not as likely to try to leave or seek exit. They feel more at home.
ASL: How do we encourage social interaction among our Life Guidance residents?
MG: We’ve found that focusing on each residents’ life story encourages them to open up and talk about what they can recall in their past more than discussing their more recent memories. Additionally, our programming and activities encourage social interaction throughout the day. We encourage staff to help residents leave their apartments and participate in events, and invite people to be together – including introducing residents to one another. Our activity program is designed to bring together residents who share similar interests. And our caregivers make connections with residents as well.
ASL: Have you encountered families of Atria residents who have demonstrated delayed memory degradation that you believe we can attribute to social living?
MG: We often hear families say, “Mom is doing so much better since she moved into Life Guidance.”
Whereas before, many residents either lived home alone or stayed in their assisted living apartment, they now have less worries, feel more confident and participate in social activities.
We don’t have anything clinical to show that we slow the progress of the disease, however, our Life Guidance programming helps residents operate at their best – rather than their worst. Enhancing their quality of life is our goal, and the social living model is a powerful way to achieve that. The environment brings out their old personalities, mannerisms and habits. It’s really therapeutic.