New animation highlights the ways people can help tackle loneliness among people living with dementia

A new Swansea University animation aims to highlight the ways people can have a positive impact the lives of people living with dementia and cognitive impairment.

The animated film is based on research by academics from Swansea University’s College of Human and Health Sciences and Bangor University, which looks at how people with cognitive impairment experience isolation and loneliness more than those without.

Cognitive impairment describes deteriorating brain functions related to aging that can affect thinking and memory skills known as cognitive abilities.

The researchers interviewed 3,314 participants aged 65 years and older to assess limitations in daily living activities e.g. getting on a bus, preparing and cooking a meal; loneliness; the quality and quantity of interactions with family and friends.

The results of the research showed that:

  • 46% of the participants had some cognitive impairment.
  • 25% were identified as lonely.
  • 26% were identified as isolated.

Previous research has shown that lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and can have a huge impact on physical and mental health.

Professor Vanessa Burholt, Director of Swansea University’s Centre for Innovative Ageing said: “The animation highlights the things that individuals as well as community groups can do that may impact on the lived experiences of people with dementia. The ways in which you react, interact or treat an older person with cognitive impairment can shape their future social relationships – it can discourage social participation and contribute to a shrinking social work, or encourage social engagement and help lead to a flourishing social life.”

The researchers’ key recommendations for tackling loneliness among people living with cognitive impairment or dementia are:

  • Involve them in groups and activities in the community.
  • Involve them in a social activity the used to enjoy.
  • Recognise what they are able to do, rather than what they cannot, and give them opportunities to do these things e.g. bake a cake.
  • If you offer somebody a lift for essential tasks e.g. shopping, medical appointments, try also offering a lift to visit a friend or family member.
  • Avoid being impatient behind someone in a queue at the supermarket or if they are slow and spending too long talking to the checkout operator - this may well be the only social contact they have. Reassure them that you’re not in a hurry.

Dementia in figures:

  • In the UK, more that 1,000,000 people are living with dementia.
  • Worldwide, at least 44 million people are living with dementia.
  • Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of dementia.
  • By 2021 it is estimated that almost 48,000 people in Wales will have dementia.

The research was conducted by Professor Vanessa Burholt (Centre for Innovative Ageing, Swansea University), Dr Gill Windle (Dementia Services Development Centre, Bangor University), Dr Deborah Morgan (Centre for Innovative Ageing, Swansea University), on behalf of the Cognitive Function and Ageing Study Wales team. The research paper is available via The Gerontologist