What are Social Interactions?

Residents with dementia typically live in a social environment that while it is very congregate (that is, characterized by many people sharing a physical space), it lacks many opportunities for social interactions that are varied and truly interpersonal. While they may spend a good deal of time with others, it is not uncommon for these occasions to be time when they are "talked at" in the course of caregiving or to be in a large group where they are expected to listen and not talk spontaneously. On the other hand, they often don't experience enough physical, social or psychological privacy.

Social interactions typical of "normal life" outside the residential setting are more likely to have formal and informal conversations that are the core of relationships, social support, a sense of belonging and chances to share ideas (serious and humorous), and to exchange ideas about whatever comes to mind. When group activity does occur in nursing homes and other residential care settings, talk is usually "leader centered". In those interactions, the staff group leader asks questions of residents in turn, but rarely invites free conversational flow among residents.

Social Interactions makes use of the retained social skills that residents with dementia have but use all too infrequently and which, as a result, may deteriorate prematurely from disuse. These interventions may evoke and exercise the residents' desire to connect to their peers in the group, their need to be successful and the need to be active participants (as opposed to mere reactors when called on) in more normalized ways using old skills and talents that are typically not visible or socially rewarded in residents with dementia living in nursing homes. Using the familiar structure and skills that have been lifelong assets, residents use their procedural memory (how things are done) which is usually retained longer than episodic (memory for the details of events) or semantic memory (remembering words) in information-rich, fun activity settings that mobilize memory and encourage success. Evidence demonstrates that residents in these programs are highly motivated, especially engaged with group members, and look like they are enjoying themselves.

These activities are valuable ways to help residents with dementia realize well-being as they experience regularly scheduled opportunities to:

  1. assert desire or will.
  2. experience and express a range of emotions.
  3. initiate social contact.
  4. display and experience social sensitivity.
  5. experience self-respect.
  6. accept and be accepted by others with dementia.
  7. display humor.
  8. show creativity and self-expression.
  9. show evident pleasure.
  10. help others.
  11. relax.

Social Interaction Interventions

(Note: These activities were initially among over 25 programs developed at the Sarah Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation by Department Heads with no formal hands-on caregiving responsibilities when they were invited to think of something they could do to improve the quality of life for residents with dementia outside of their usual work role. The resulting program enrichment provided by these staff and Board members added over 20 hours a week of enjoyment to the lives of the residents and staff/board volunteer leaders.)

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