Unlike many daycare services which simply endeavour to occupy people, often in large groups, Dementia Active focuses upon tapping into each person’s past skills and interests as well as introducing them to new experiences. Dementia is a disease which year by year results in a reduction in people’s cognitive ability and therefore in past and present interests. Depression and isolation are common even for those with supportive families. Carers can also end up feeling isolated as friends desert them as a result of their uncertainty about how to relate to their former friends. It is vital that carers are able to maintain their social contacts. Dementia Active helps enable this by creating a block of free time for carers.
Groups are small so activities can be person centred and responsive to how the person is feeling on that particular day. The aim is for people to join Dementia Active groups and feel that they are ‘members’, sharing experiences together and not ‘clients’, a commonly used and impersonal term suggesting the process of passively receiving a service. Clearly people who have dementia have a wide range of difficulties and some will be able to participate in the development of their group more easily than others.
● Informal induction at the beginning of the first session with the Activity Leader who will outline the plan for the session, introduce the volunteer to the group and identify any particular issues members may be experiencing on that particular day. Fire safety procedures, the layout of the building and kitchen facilities will also be explained.
● If the volunteer has not received the pack prior to visiting for the first time, they will have an opportunity to take some time to read through the paperwork.
● Initially volunteers spend time just getting to know the members, socialising and assisting them in activities.
● With experience volunteers may like to develop activities themselves (this is not a requirement) or simply share observations and ideas.
● Feedback from volunteers as to how they felt the session went is valued and will be sought particularly from new volunteers.
● Dementia Active is part of the Dementia Friends network and encourages all its volunteers to join this initiative.
● Online dementia videos provided by Dementia Friends are a useful introduction for volunteers to the field of dementia.
● To enjoy yourself! Volunteering, although a commitment, should never feel like a burden.
● To support the activity leader by helping members take part in and enjoy activities.
● To help create a warm, friendly environment in which everyone can have a little (or a lot of!) fun together.
● To observe the group as a whole and notice if there are individuals who have become withdrawn or have lost interest.
● To ensure members safety particularly when standing and walking as many have mobility problems.
● To assist with general tidying up after activities; serving lunch and drinks and leaving kitchen facilities clean and tidy.
● To make sure that members take all their belongings and prizes (!) when they leave.
● To communicate with carers or friends who come to collect members and let them know how well the session went.
Volunteers are valued and are essential for Dementia Active to achieve its core aims:
● They bring additional skills and new perspectives to the organisation.
● They are in a good position to champion the cause of improving the lives of people with dementia within the wider community by telling others what can be achieved. We all fear the onset of dementia. So by sharing the positive experience of working as a volunteer supporting members, others may be heartened.
● They bring their life skills, personality and experience, and therefore add to the richness of the experience for those with dementia.
Volunteers can expect:
● To have clear information about what is and is not expected of them.
● To be working in a safe and fully insured environment.
● To be treated with respect.
● To be valued and appreciated for what they do.
● To have the freedom to say ‘no’ to anything which they do not feel comfortable doing.
Dementia Active needs volunteers:
● To be reliable and honest.
● To communicate regarding availability and to give as much notice as possible if unable to attend a session.
● To uphold the organisation’s values and comply with Dementia Active policies.
● To participate with a positive attitude bearing in mind that the demands of working with people with dementia can mean that sessions do not always run to plan.
● To communicate positively about the organisation in the wider community.
● To be inclusive and without value judgement when responding to people who may have very different backgrounds, beliefs or cultures.
Dementia - communication strategies:
Although members will all have different needs it is wise to keep the following in mind as a starting point when communicating:
● Speak slowly and clearly using short sentences.
● Offer lots of reassurance when people attempt to carry out a task.
● When making a request, ensure that the person is making eye contact and you have their full attention.
● Sometimes a request backed up by pointing may be easier for members to understand.
● Be aware that background noise can be distracting
● Many older people have hearing and sight loss which increases the feelings of isolation and confusion. Be aware of the possibility of these additional communication difficulties.
● The aim is always to help people to experience success/satisfaction when taking part in activities. This might involve giving prompts. There is a very fine line between giving too much help when someone is attempting to do something, therefore reducing their sense of achievement and not helping enough which might result in them feeling stressed and lacking in competence.
● Remember that people’s ability levels will vary from day to day and often from hour to hour. Typically people become more tired towards the end of the session.
When volunteers move on from volunteering with us they will be asked to provide feedback on the volunteering experience by way of an exit questionnaire. They will also be given the opportunity to discuss their responses to the questionnaire more fully. Volunteers who have remained with the organisation for at least 3 months will have the right to request a reference. Volunteers will be supported to move on to other options.
Andy Gill, Dementia Active- 29/7/19 Review date - 29/7/20