Geriatric experts say socially isolated adults at higher risk for dementia

Geriatric expert says socially isolated adults at higher risk for dementia

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Visiting loved ones in nursing facilities was one of the major sacrifices many people had to make because of the pandemic, but now that restrictions are loosening, experts want families to be prepared for loved ones who may have cognitively or physically declined further in the past year.

While many long-term care facilities made virtual accommodations to maintain the connection with loved ones during the pandemic, UVA clinical psychologist Rodney Kibler says nothing beats meeting face-to-face.

“There’s no question that folks, particularly those who are institutionalized, have withdrawn from lack of stimulation,” Kibler said. “Prepare yourself for a little bit of a shadow of your mom or dad is now if that’s who you are visiting.”

According to the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, social isolation in older adults is associated with a 50% increased risk of developing dementia, a 30% increased risk of incident coronary artery disease or stroke, and a 26% increased risk of all-cause mortality.

Maura Horton is a Care Coach with Raleigh, North Carolina-based company Juniper Unlimited and is an expert on caregiving. She says those meetings may be heartbreaking. Horton says that while cognitive and physical decline is ultimately unavoidable, the best way to prevent further decline in loved ones is to begin planning now.

“When we’re now being able to re-enter and be reacquainted with our loved ones, we are starting to see those deficiencies,” Horton said. “It’s best to make sure that you connect with the care facility that your loved one is at. See if they can give you any heads up ahead of time so that you can plan and prepare as best as possible.”

Kibler says even though loved ones may have constant contact with their aides, connections typically only stimulate short-term memory and are not as powerful as interacting with close family or friends. He says when you do finally meet up with a loved one, try engaging in activities that stimulate mobility and long-term memory.

“Their long-term memories are the last to go, so their response to the face they knew 30 years ago is probably still going to be real,” Kibler said. “Music is a great stimulation, specifically to the period of time those folks may have been teenagers.”

The experts say that it’s best to temper your expectations when seeing loved ones again and to make sure that the time you are spending with them is quality time.

“Make sure that we’re engaged, we’re listening, we’re not in a rush, we are really trying to spend that quality time,” Maura said.

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