Recognizing Loneliness and Boredom in Dementia

Improving Quality of Life in Alzheimer's Disease

Boredom and Loneliness in Dementia
Bored Man/ Peter Dazeley Collection: Photographer's Choice / Getty Images.

They’re easy to overlook, but loneliness and boredom are frequent concerns among people with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. Although their memory might not be perfect, the feelings of people with dementia are very real, and can impact the majority of their day. In fact, the emotions of people with dementia sometimes can last longer than the memory of what caused them. Challenging behaviors can emerge as well, when loneliness and boredom go unchecked.

Loneliness

According to the United Kingdom Alzheimer's Society Dementia 2012 Report, 61% of people with dementia felt lonely, and 77% were depressed or anxious.

A second study conducted by the University of Michigan reported that 60 percent of older adults experience feelings of loneliness, although this study didn’t focus solely on those with dementia. Interestingly, the researchers noted that while family is important, friendships may be even more critical in combating feelings of loneliness.

Interestingly, a third study found a correlation between loneliness and increased hallucinations in people living with early stage Alzheimer's disease. The researchers in this study theorized that hallucinations in dementia could be a result of the mind compensating for a lack of social stimulation.

Boredom

Boredom in Alzheimer's is linked to several other concerns, including depression, anxiety, apathy, wandering, agitation and more. Anecdotal evidence would indicate that the prevalence of boredom for people who have dementia is quite high, although there are few studies that specifically measure boredom.

One physician, Dr. William Thomas, was so convinced that loneliness, helplessness and boredom are plagues for people in long-term care facilities that he founded the Eden Alternative, a philosophy program dedicated to making "life worth living" for older adults. The basic idea of the Eden Alternative is that plants, animals and children can help reduce loneliness, helpless and boredom for the older adults in nursing homes and assisted living centers.

How Can We Help Reduce Loneliness and Boredom for People with Dementia?

Unfortunately, there's not a "one size fits all" answer here. However, you can start with these suggestions:

  • Be mindful of how the person with dementia feels. If he appears lonely, take time to chat with him.
  • Look for ways to capture her attention. If she always perks up when there's a baby nearby, make the extra effort to bring your little one around to see her.
  • Engage him in meaningful activities. In order to do this, you will need to find out who he is as a person, and what his interests have been prior to the development of dementia.
  • Seek out friendships for your patient or loved one. Help her foster a connection with someone with whom she might enjoy talking.
  • Offer an appropriate, caring touch. Give a hug around her shoulders or greet him with a gentle handshake. Much of the physical touch people with dementia receive is related to meeting their physical needs; appropriate touch can communicate that you value them as a person and may reduce feelings of loneliness.
  • Use his name. This conveys respect and provides a reminder that he is important, cared for, and known by name.
  • One study found that boredom in people with Alzheimer's disease was reduced significantly by encouraging them to reminisce about their past.
  • Some research also suggests that loneliness in people with early stage dementia is combated by connecting specifically with familiar people, not just general social interaction.
  • Play music that is familiar and enjoyed by the person with dementia. The memory of, and connection to, music often lasts far longer than other memories.

A Word from Verywell

While we're still lacking a significant body of research on the prevalence of loneliness and boredom experienced by those living with Alzheimer's and dementia, observational studies and casual interviews clearly identify this concern as significantly impacting quality of life. Part of a holistic approach for those entrusted to our care includes paying attention and tending to the whole person, which necessitates addressing the problems of loneliness and boredom that often co-exist with memory loss and confusion.

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Article Sources
  • Alzheimer's Society. Alzheimer's Society Dementia 2012 Report. ​http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/download_info.php?fileID=1390
  • Eden Alternative. About the Eden Alternative. . http://www.edenalt.org/about-the-eden-alternative
  • University of Michigan. Seniors are lonely.  http://www.seniorjournal.com/NEWS/Aging/5-11-21-SeniorsAreLonely.htm

  • Moyle, W., Kellett, U., Ballantyne, A. and Gracia, N. (2011). Dementia and loneliness: an Australian perspective. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 20(9-10), pp.1445-1453.

  • El Haj, M., Jardri, R., Larøi, F. and Antoine, P. (2016). Hallucinations, loneliness, and social isolation in Alzheimer's disease. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, 21(1), pp.1-13.