Our friendships provide us with encouragement and inspiration that enable us to experience meaning and affirm our identities. Our need for these deep connections exists throughout our lives.
Friendships may become even more important after a diagnosis of dementia given that the reaction of close friends can greatly influence what it is like to live with dementia. When friends distance themselves because they do not understand or know what to say, it results in decreased social and leisure opportunities and leads to feelings of isolation. Yet, when someone with dementia can depend on their friends, they continue to enjoy personally meaningful leisure, feelings of joy and self-worth, and see themselves as valued members of their social circles.
Goals of the Study
Through our study, we explored the meaning of long-standing friendships and learned how friends are maintaining their deep connections as they adapt to life with dementia together. Our study had three overarching objectives:
- to deepen our understanding of the meaning of sustained friendships for individuals living with dementia and their friends;
- to explore the role of leisure in facilitating friendships; and
- to create resources that highlight strategies for sustaining valued friendships.
What We Did
We asked participants (13 individuals with dementia, 19 friends of individuals with dementia, and 8 family members) how their friendship began, how they spent time together, changes to their friendship since the diagnosis of dementia, challenges to maintaining their friendship and how engaging in leisure strengthened their relationship.
We looked for examples of what was working well in terms of maintaining friendships, the challenges, as well as strategies that have supported friends to remain deeply connected. We did this with an aim to help individuals living with dementia, friends, healthcare professionals, and families identify their own strategies to best support meaningful friendships.
Ultimately, through our research, we hope to advocate for a more balanced view of what it is like to live, and live well, with dementia.
What We Found
During our interviews, we heard moving stories of deepened bonds of friendship, genuine acceptance and the joy of simply being together. We worked with artists who helped create a series of research-based vignettes that visually depict stories from our research – stories that we would like to share in order to prompt others to consider ways they can continue their own friendships. We also created conversation guides to provide tips and strategies that friends can use to commit to their friendships in meaningful ways.
Please consider watching one or more of the videos and use the accompanying guide to engage in a guided conversation with your friend.
Videos & Conversation Guides
Below, you’ll find a series of videos and accompanying conversation guides which were created based on our findings. We suggest you watch one or more of the videos and use the accompanying guide which contains related tips and questions to engage in a guided conversation with your friend.
Gifts and Meanings of Friendship
We discovered that friends shared an unwavering commitment to the friendship; the diagnosis was something both friends faced together. In fact, some friends attended doctor’s appointments in place of family members. Also evident in our conversations was a raw honesty between friends who prioritized open and honest conversations on a regular basis. A plan that worked one week might not work the next, and no one became angry or upset at the other person. Nothing was taken personally.
Strategies for Maintaining Friendships
We discovered that friends are actively working to maintain their friendship after a diagnosis of dementia. Some of the steps friends are taking include prioritizing their friendship, shifting the ways they think about their friendship, and addressing changes through practical strategies. Such practical strategies involve being open and honest, stepping in to provide support, and being persistent.
Leisure and Friendship
We discovered the interwoven relationship between enjoyable leisure experiences and friendship. Specifically, we learned how friends help to support continued leisure engagement and how shared leisure experiences, in turn, help to support continued friendships for individuals living with dementia.
Publications & Media
News & Publications
- Strategies for Maintaining Friendship in DementiaPublished online by Cambridge University Press: 06 August 2021
- The interplay between leisure, friendship, and dementiaPublished in Dementia: 2021, Vol. 20(6)
- Maintaining friendships after a dementia diagnosis can spur feelings of joy and self-worthPublished on TheConversation.com: July 28, 2022
Audio & Video
- Interview on CBC SaskatchewanUniversity of Regina researcher studies how maintaining friendships after a dementia diagnosis can spur feelings of joy and self-worth.
- Dementia Dialogue - Episode 49: FriendshipLisa Loiselle speaks with Brenda Hounam and Colleen Whyte about friendship and dementia. Brenda was diagnosed with early onset dementia at age 53.
Contact Our Researchers
Thanks to everyone who made this study possible
We would like to express our sincere thanks to everyone who was involved in this study. We could not have done it without our study participants who shared their experiences with us. We extend our thanks to Brenda Hounam and Lisa Loiselle who worked together to create our Conversation Guides. Finally, we thank Tracey Van Oosten and Dylin North for their creative design work on our vignettes.
This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.