I’ve been volunteering with Alzheimer’s Society running activities for people with dementia for almost 9 months now. It has been one of the most humbling and heart-warming experiences. Even though nobody in my immediate family has dementia, volunteering has partially restored the connection with the older generations that I had missed since moving away from home several years ago.
After my second volunteering session, one of the ladies came to me and said: “thanks for all the laughter”. That’s when I knew I’d be coming back.
I’ve always been close to my grandma – I even lived there for a few years during my early childhood when my parents were building our future home. A lot of firsts happened at grandparents’ home: first steps, first words, first game of checkers and chess… Apparently, the reason I learned the first letters and started writing words when I was three years old was because my grandma didn’t know how to entertain me and decided to show me a few letters. She said he was surprised to see that I remembered them the next day. And that’s how it started.
When I was six, my granddad would start a game of chess one rook short, to give me the edge. Later he would only take a knight or a bishop and soon enough we played as equals. Sadly it didn’t last. It was emotional to see the roles reverse over the years – a time came when I pretended I didn’t see his bad move on the chess board just so we would get to play for a bit longer.
It’s scary to see your loved ones getting old. My grandma came to visit me in London four years ago, when he was 80. By herself. I was 20 so I dragged her to all the museums and galleries that I loved. She didn’t complain for a second. Now I see that I could have taken it easier, but at the time I didn’t realise the difficulties that elderly face and the stress she must have been under.
Loneliness is said to have a major impact on physical and mental health.
Spending every other Saturday with people who have dementia is just as therapeutic for volunteers as they are for the elderly. It puts things in perspective. It provides you with the little joys, like having a cup of tea, singing a song (I usually have no idea what the lyrics are but so far I seem to get away with it!) or sharing a story. There are stories I’ve heard multiple times now but it doesn’t quite matter. It about having somebody who listens to it.
I also get listened to. There is a lady who always asks whether I’ve been on any dates and how they went. She herself has a wonderful love story to tell, where she met her future husband as a teenager and they lived happily under he passed away a few years ago. Before I started volunteering, I thought that maybe the people will be a bit defensive about their illness and not want the help. I was pleasantly surprised how open everybody was and welcomed volunteers as a part of their group.
In case you didn’t think dementia was a major societal issue:
- There are 47.5 million people worldwide living with dementia. This is predicted to rise to more than 150 million by 2050.
- Dementia is not always associated with ageing. Early-onset dementia, also known as younger people with dementia, affects people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and early-60s. In the UK, at least 40,000 people under 65 have dementia.
- The annual cost of dementia to society in the UK is estimated at £26.3 billion. This is higher than the cost of cancer, heart disease, or stroke.
- In the UK, 62% of people with dementia are female and 38% are male.
Now you should.
You might also want to:
read some personal stories from people affected by dementia, carers and relatives
Source of data and images: Public Health England