Gerontological Society of America hosts symposia series on "Friendship and Loneliness among People Living with Dementia”

20/12/2021

The Gerontological Society of America (GSA) recently held a symposia series on “Friendship and Loneliness among People Living with Dementia” which brought together more than 30 practitioners and experts, including people with lived experiences. Subtitled “Social Practices and Identity” and “Toward Community and Shared Humanity,” the symposia discussed state of the art approaches to dementia care and prevention in community settings since Tom Kitwood’s Dementia Reconsidered (1997), and future directions. Dementia self-advocate Dr Jim Mann and mental health theologian Dr John Swinton (University of Aberdeen) provided critical insights into the limits of current approaches. The agency of people living with dementia must be carefully acknowledged across all interaction settings, and experts and policymakers should be sensitised to how our words or discourse construct worlds unto themselves that potentially harm or impede the inclusion of people living with dementia in their own communities.
The practical implications of these discussions are further elaborated in a brief report, published in February 2022: https://www.geron.org/publications/gerontology-news
Taken together, scholars and experts called for radical inclusion to provide “ways of being in the world that are more accepting and embracing” (Hillman & Latimer, 2017) and kind, to the varied socio-cognitive struggles of people living with dementia, including the dismantling of residual industry complex. Genuine friendships are required to intercept the development of chronic loneliness upon dementia diagnosis in their communities.
For the wellbeing of people with dementia in assisted living, the working conditions of care aides must also be improved. For the wellbeing of people living with dementia in their neighbourhoods, stigma and malignant social practices must be addressed before they place unhelpful constraints on the social identity of the person living with dementia.
The value of a community depends on the quality of its friendships, and has been found to be crucial during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic (Gan & Trivic, 2021). A toolkit to “flip stigma on its ears” is available here: https://www.flippingstigma.com/