Community connections boost wellbeing in people living with dementia

New research shows that people living with dementia benefit from being connected with their local community. At Care UK, teams are working to develop these crucial links.

The research, carried out over a five-year period by academics at the University of Manchester, is the largest study of its kind. It investigates how people living with dementia and their partners experience their local neighbourhoods.

The report says familiarity with people in local shops, cafés and even on the street was crucial to the participants of the study. The researchers say acts of kindness by neighbours – like taking the bins out each week – have a huge effect on their wellbeing.

The researchers also found that some people with dementia still have a valuable role in their neighbourhoods by looking out for things, collecting newspapers, and caring for grandchildren.

The findings come as no surprise to Sam Woods, customer relations manager at Cavell Court care home in Norfolk, who has helped to devise an award-winning series of community events and activities.

The home has been recognised by Norfolk County Council for helping to end loneliness in the region. It was one of only seven organisations, and the only care home, to achieve the Quality PLUS mark. This recognises organisations that have gone above and beyond to help engage with those who may feel isolated or lonely in the local community.

Sam explained: “We have an open-door policy so the community know we value them and we feel a part of all that goes on locally. That has enormous benefits for residents young and old in Cringleford.”

Once a month, the home offers a free lunch to anyone in the community experiencing loneliness. Sam said: “Everyone benefits from the community lunch club. The visitors enjoy a three-course meal and company: our residents meet new people and they like sharing stories about the local community.”

Residents have also benefited from the intergenerational activities created by Sam and the team: “We have had a number of intergenerational projects with Cringleford Primary School that have bought joy and a sense of purpose to residents – and a new perspective to pupils.

“Children from year three joined us to make bird houses and create fat balls and then came back to help residents count numbers and species of birds in the grounds for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. Some residents have also been to the school to join in lessons and to watch the children’s recitals. Our local police cadets have also been working with residents on creating a wildlife-friendly garden, with hedgehog runs and plants that attract insects.”

Cavell Court’s open-door policy extends to local groups: “We offer our cinema to the Alzheimer’s Society for their volunteer meetings and to the local hospital’s consultants when they want to train their teams. This has strengthened our relationships with the hospital and with some of the other people who are key to the wellbeing of our residents.”

Members of Cringleford Bridge Club join in the life of the home and came into Cavell Court to help the team set up a bridge club. This also involved playing with the residents when there were not enough people who knew how to play. The home also works with the Norfolk Deaf Association, providing a room free of charge so it can carry out a monthly drop in hearing clinic so residents and members of the public can take advantage of this free service.

Sam added: “The message from our experience and the research is clear: there are real benefits to being actively involved in the community and our happy, engaged residents are proof of this.”

Read more about the research on the University of Manchester website.