The benefits of gratitude for people living with dementia

The benefits of gratitude for people living with dementia

The number of people living with dementia is growing rapidly, however the evidence base for psychosocial interventions to help people live well with dementia has largely focused on the reduction of cognitive symptoms and the burden of those giving care.

There has been a recent surge of interest in positive psychology and the fostering of positive emotions and constructs such as happiness and gratitude. The evidence base relating to gratitude is growing, and indicates links between higher gratitude levels and better well-being,

Research has shown that we can help those in Dementia settings by continuing practices of gratitude and even fostering new gratitude practices.

Gratitude focusses on a particular moment in time, a time when someone showed kindness to us, did something for us which caused us to feel appreciation.

Activities in cognitive stimulation therapy aim to stimulate thinking and memory, so gratitude is able to bookmark moments in time when we were grateful for the kindness of others.

Life story books in dementia care are used as a part of person-centred care. These books are often compiled with the help of close family members and can help to reconstruct and add solidity to those memories, focus on present events, and look forward to the future.

Sally Thompson of Senior Moments Care says:

It's our emotional journey. When you suffer from dementia, your life is not over, it's a new chapter of your life starting.

If we make practices of gratitude part of our daily routines and diarise these practices, we will have more time markers to look back on.

Gratitude involves conscious effort and needs to be developed over time. It centres on being present in the moment and attending to the positive.

Harnessing the practice of gratitude builds resiliency that protects against the negative health consequences of life's stresses.

Gratitude strengthens and deepens relationships, it makes us feel connected to other people and the world around us, By focusing on what we value, be that spending time with a friend, the bloom of spring flowers, or our heath, we become more likely to engage in behaviours that cultivate these values. These behaviours are some of the mechanisms by which gratitude practice can confer resiliency in the brain. Engaging in prosocial behaviour strengthens social bonds, which can provide for a stronger social support network during times of need, reduces loneliness, lowers stress and it can lead to healthier life choices; we sleep better, and are more likely to get regular exercise.

The neural signature of gratitude involves brain regions that are important for social information processing and emotional regulation.

We know that prevention is always better than a cure. Studies show that the benefits of gratitude are long term, the benefits may not be apparent immediately, but will occur after the practice has been cultivated over a period of time and can be long-lasting.

If we implement practices of gratitude in our lives now, we will be building emotional resilience for our future. Gratitude can help our loved ones who are living with dementia now and protect our own mental wellbeing as we move into the future.

You can listen to the accompanying TAP Social Care Radio Show here: