We explain how telephone Side by Side volunteers provide regular contact for people with dementia.
'That somebody takes the time to give you a ring, ask how you are, have a chat – it's nice when somebody makes that effort.'
That's just one of many appreciative comments from people with dementia in Wiltshire who have joined our telephone Side by Side service. A phone call may seem like a small thing, but the right call at the right time can make a world of difference.
Alison saw how people could be impatient with her father and mother-in-law when they had dementia years ago. Now a telephone volunteer, she says she's able 'to be that person who will listen patiently, reassure and value each individual.'
Rodney Smith, who has Alzheimer's, is someone else Alison calls regularly. He certainly values hearing from her.
'We talk about life and everything, what we've done in the past,' says Rodney, 73. 'She had time in the forces and I was in the army as well – so we have something in common.'
Regular phone calls
Through Side by Side, volunteers usually meet people with dementia face to face, supporting them to continue to do whatever they love doing. However, some people prefer regular phone contact, and an increasing number of areas offer this too.
'I have five service users who I telephone regularly, once or sometimes twice a week,' says Alison.
'We have lovely conversations, full of humour and laughter,' says Alison.
'They're all completely different. Four women and one man, all isolated in their own ways, who look forward to my calls and never run out of things to chat about now that they know me.
'Sometimes they can be very down when I call, but I aim to leave them in a happier frame of mind. We have lovely conversations, full of humour and laughter.'
Diane Jenkins, the Side by Side Co-ordinator for Wiltshire, was keen to offer a phone service, particularly because it can be harder to find a nearby volunteer in rural communities.
'It's given people who've been waiting a while the opportunity to have a good relationship with others when they've been isolated previously, enabling me to look for the best face-to-face matches for them,' says Diane.
'This can also work well for people who physically may not be able to get out and about, but who still have social connections and want the opportunity to talk to someone.'
In addition, it means more ways to get involved for volunteers without transport or who – like Alison – have a disability that affects how much they can travel. It's a flexible role, only needing half an hour or so to be put aside for a call.
Prepared to chat
Everyone involved in Side by Side has a 'one-page profile' about them and their interests. This helps people with dementia to select volunteers, and it can be useful in prompting conversation on the phone too.
Diane knows what to look for in a telephone volunteer like Alison. 'Being interested in people and what they have got to say, being a good listener – and being prepared to chat about anything!'
It's clear that Alison fits the bill, not only from people's feedback, but also from how it affects her.
'In a nutshell, I love what I do,' she says. 'I feel useful and valued.'