Exploring the meaning of friendship for those with dementia

By Costa Maragos Posted: May 29, 2017 6:00 a.m.

Dr. Rebecca Genoe (r), associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, is working with Haley Rutherford, a master’s student. Both take a personal and professional interest in research related to dementia.
Dr. Rebecca Genoe (r), associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, is working with Haley Rutherford, a master’s student. Both take a personal and professional interest in research related to dementia. Photo by Rae Graham – U of R Photography

Dr. Rebecca Genoe and student Haley Rutherford have observed up close the effects dementia can have on people.

For Genoe, it was the time she spent working in a long-term care home.

For Rutherford, it’s a little more personal. Her grandmother is in the early stages of dementia.

Now the two are working with a research team exploring the meaning of deep and sustained friendships for people with dementia.
 
The research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, (SSHRC).

“When people are diagnosed with dementia there are a lot of changes,” says Genoe, associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies. “There may be changes in mood, changes in abilities and obviously changes in memory, all of which can affect relationships with others. This can affect a loved one or friend’s view of the person who has been diagnosed. This can change their relationships.”

Rutherford is a master’s student who comes to the U of R after earning a bachelor’s of psychology and a minor in gerontology at Mount Royal University in Calgary.
 
“My grandmother is functional most of the time, but unfortunately we’re starting to see she is getting unsure of things,” says Rutherford. “She has her husband and has her support, but she can’t go out on her own anymore.”

Among Rutherford’s duties as a research assistant will be to collect data and help with the focus groups.
 
“I enjoy working with older adults,” says Rutherford.

An existing body of work suggests that, as people with significant illnesses age, they tend to be drawn to familiar faces including family and long-standing friendships. This might also apply to people with dementia, suggesting that old friends become increasingly important to their well-being.

However, as the studies show, negotiating those friendships is a challenge. The U of R team hopes to fill some of the gaps in this area of dementia research.

“This research builds on my dissertation research from several years ago, where I looked specifically at the meaning of leisure for people living with early stages of dementia,” says Genoe.

The U of R team is now seeking interview subjects.

The first phase of the project will involve interviews with 45 people with dementia and their close friends who live either in the community, retirement living or a long-term care home.

The interviews will cover areas that will include how the friendship has shifted as a result of the diagnosis of dementia and the challenges and rewards of that friendship. In order to be considered for the research the friends must have known each other for at least five years before the dementia diagnosis was made.

“We believe that an exploration into how relationships are maintained, re-constructed and negotiated after a diagnosis of dementia is essential to supporting meaningful living with dementia,” says Genoe.
 
If you are interested in taking part in this research please contact rebecca.genoe@uregina.ca or call 306-585-4781.

U of R research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

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