In high school, I was lucky enough to complete my volunteer hours in the local hospital where my responsibilities included interacting with the elderly and serving them dinner. They had many stories to share and loved having people to share them with.
While volunteering with the same patients over a couple months, the best advice I was given was that the important thing to remember is not so much what the person is saying, but to make the person feel safe, secure and stimulated.
That advice has stuck with me for years now and I have used it in other parts of my life because everyone should be treated with dignity, acceptance and understanding- no matter the age. It also helped me the most when I spent time with the patients living with dementia.
Looking back, I remember how thrilled I was to finally finish my hospital training and start my hands on experience. I was given one task on my first day – make someone feel special. I had one hour until I had to serve dinner and I planned on making the most of it. I headed for a walk around the ward to introduce myself to the patients who would quickly become my friends.
One particular patient, Martha (fictitious name) was living with dementia and she really touched my heart. She often believed she was feeding her horses from her hospital bed. Her roommate would always smile because she knew Martha thought she was back home on the farm and doing her chores. The first time I encountered Martha, I took her in a wheelchair and suggested we chase after them.
After a lap around the ward, she had forgotten about the horses and was back in present day. Just as we rounded the nurses station for the second time, she asked if I could take her over by the door so she could check on the weather. Little did I know that the alarms were going to sound and nurses would start running towards us like we were escapees. It was Martha’s initiation for new volunteers and she loved the thrill of the alarm and people getting excited, it made her feel special to play those clever little tricks.
From that day forward, Martha and I had a special bond, whether she thought I was her daughter, grandson’s girlfriend or just me. She taught me valuable life lessons like to find a reason to laugh each day because life is better with a smile.
So how can we help people living with Dementia?
There are many things we can do to help support, communicate with and better understand people living with dementia. Here are a few of my tips that worked for me and will help you make a difference too!
- Speak slowly and use simple words and sentences
- Maintain eye contact and use body language, facial expressions and gestures to support what you’re trying to communicate. It goes a long way!
- Take the time to listen to them and make them feel included in conversations
- Remove distracting noises or sounds that may overwhelm or excite them
Through my experiences, I’ve learned that dementia doesn’t define a person. They’re still an individual with a story and personality. Take the time to learn how you can help keep them engaged and feeling respected because it goes a long way. Being a good listener and friend will help boost their self-esteem and you’ll feel good about it too!
Become a Friend of Dementia
When you become a Dementia Friend, you’ll learn more about the signs and symptoms of dementia and you’ll be able to turn that understanding into simple actions that help people with dementia live better.
So what are you waiting for? Join me and become a friend on the Dementia Friends Wall today!
Learn more about Dementia Friends Canada on Twitter, Facebook and on www.dementiafriends.ca
This post has been generously sponsored by Dementia Friends Canada, the opinions and language are my own.