Today was a busy day for me, I disconnected on the weekend, I disconnect more often these days in a attempt to not become overwhelmed and overtire my brain.
But today at our Brain Health Hub meeting, ( if you haven’t been you should come), it was an interesting hour one in which gave me things to think about. We were talking about the importance of exercise, nutrition for brain health, and then someone said they felt socialization should be added to that list.
Our brains are the hard drive of our body, optimizing our brain health is something most of us understood little about until the damage was done, and we received our dementia diagnosis, because let’s face it we do not grow up being taught how important brain health is, or why.
after diagnosis many of us learn that important piece and then we start the process of learning all we can about the nutritional components, the exercise components, but until today, ( well yesterday know as I started writing this last night but didn’t finish it before sleep overtook me.), until today we seldom if ever talk about the importance of socialization.
I was wondering why, perhaps because we become more isolated as people drop us off of their friends list, like we are contagious or something, more often because our illness changes us in and on many levels and not many people are willing to accept anyone except as they always were. It sad, truly sad, for they miss out on some wonderful opportunities to share experiences with you, to enjoy pieces of you that often were buried or hidden and your illness allows them to emerge. Those losses are felt much more deeply than people realize, I know for me the hurt and pain caused by those losses have been at times unbearable. So you end up being more isolated, but you find new ways to socialize, if it doesn’t spiral you into depression which is a common side effect of dementia, another component that is not discussed and shared with you when you are diagnosed, so for some this causes further isolation. This isolation causes even further loss of brain function, the lack of socialization. Socialization does not have to be loud and boisterous, it does not have to be large gatherings, it can be small get togethers, one on one, but socialization increases our brain function, it’s vital to our mental health, it helps develop new brain pathways.
So for people who already suffer the loss of so much of the social aspect of their life due to the illness, ( makes me so sad that people fear dementia so much), let’s add a covid 19 pandemic into the picture, now those living with dementia are at a much higher risk of getting covid, so isolation again takes on a real and prevalent spot in the lives of people with dementia. The socialization that they managed to maintain, is now decreased even further, this puts them at risk if further and more rapid decline with our disease.
It is imperative that we start to look at the socialization aspect more closely. We have all be blessed to have zoom, and video messenger calls, etc, it has been a true life safer for me, for without it my socialization would be pretty close to nil. Those video chats with friends those zoom calls where we share laughter and tears are an important piece to keeping us connected, and maybe during a pandemic it is saving us from an even bigger mental health crisis.
But, it does not take away the importance of face to face interactions. I can’t honestly remember when I ever last received a hug, it almost scares me to think how I might respond should I ever be fortunate enough to receive another one. Will I cringe, will I fall into a heap of tears, will I fail to feel anything at all? I ask myself these things, I likely still have months to go before I will be able to maneuver outside of my bubble, so I am not sure how I will respond. But I know my walks have kept me socialized to a degree, having a conversation while out walking, with a stranger, on opposite sides of the street, but at least it’s face to face interaction, this has been an important part of my well-being during this time.
So for people with dementia, people with dementia who are on locked units in Care Homes, I call them warehouses, and it’s a human rights violation to have people locked on these units. But that’s another blog another time. They do and are though severely affected by lack of socialization, on a normal day, during the pandemic, it becomes a crisis for them, and for many who live with dementia. Many are fortunate to live with and be part of a family bubble, which allows some socialization but still not enough.
So it becomes vital that when we talk about brain health, about the things we can do to help ourselves continue to thrive and have quality of life. To be able to continue to contribute it ways that keep us having a purpose, that keeps us having a life lived with hope, with feeling valued. We then must remember the importance of socialization no matter what stage of Dementia you are in, that included in the nutritional, exercise components we must not forget the social component.