About Dementia & Friendship

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 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:

  1. to deepen our understanding of the meaning of sustained friendships for individuals living with dementia and their friends;
  2. to explore the role of leisure in facilitating friendships; and
  3. 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.