As it is currently Dementia Awareness Week I thought it was the right time to make a blog post reviewing my work with Dementia. Over the past academic year I have volunteered with a charity known as Tibbs Dementia Foundation, working closely with the Dementia community in Bedford to improve not only the lives of those living with Dementia, but also the lives of their carers and family. I use the word community because it really is a community. A group of people lifting the taboo of the name Dementia and creating a very friendly environment for the people living with it.
My work with Tibbs began at a Dementia conference 2 years ago in my school hall, run by Tibbs. I learnt a lot about the condition from speakers and through the workshops on offer. The biggest thing I learnt when I started volunteering was that Dementia is not a bad word. It is often portrayed in the media and in healthcare very negatively, as there is a lot of confusion around the topic area. Take the advertising campaign for cancer research. It is full of very positive language and ideas. ‘The fight against cancer’, ‘We’re going to beat cancer’. Advertisement often shows lots of support, but Dementia is very different. There is little positivity about it and a lot of people feel like they can’t talk about it. This should not be the case, as I have learned over the past year.
“Taking the Demon out of Dementia”
One of my favorite quotes from Tibbs is, “Taking the Demon out of Dementia”. Having spent time with and talking to people with Dementia, they feel a lot happier and are more open when embracing and talking about Dementia. It should not be classed a a taboo topic. Instead of telling someone that you’ve already heard their story that they’ve told you ten times in the past minute, or that they’ve already asked you that question, it is better to be patient with them and listen to their story again or repeat your answer. From my experience, they love to be listened to as in today’s society we often don’t have the time to sit and talk to someone suffering with Dementia for an hour or so. Often the things they repeat are important to them, and if they keep bringing something up they love it when you engage with them. When I’ve been walking in the park with one of the old ladies who I’ve got to know very well, when she says she doesn’t want to carry on and she wants to go home, instead of forcing her to finish the walk I often ask her why she wants to stop, and I help her to come to the decision of carrying on, even if it does involve the promise of tea and a cake at the end. This woman has been particularly intriguing. One week she is very talkative and positive, ready to perform whatever activity we have waiting, but other weeks she is the complete opposite. This has taught me that Dementia isn’t easy and you often have to adapt your tactics to dealing with it.
Throughout my year, I have taken part in running a huge variety of activities for Dementia sufferers. As a community, we have run:
- Walks in the park
- Rock climbing
- Acitivites in the Dementia home
- Dementia dancing
- Dementia pantomimes
- Dementia Christmas concert
- Dementia sailing
It has been totally enriching to see the smiles on faces due to myself and others taking 2 hours out of a busy week to volunteer. A highlight for me came a couple of weeks ago where the woman I was talking about earlier asked for me when we arrived at Priory Marina to do Dementia sailing. She wanted to talk to me and it was amazing to hold her hand as she happily told me about her week. Not only is it clear that the people with Dementia are enjoying themselves, but it is also clear that the carers and volunteers are enjoying themselves. It has truly been an enriching experience for everyone who has taken part in volunteering over the past year and I hope to be able to continue volunteering to help Dementia throughout my time at university.