A Dementia Friend in Northern Ireland talks about volunteering for Side by Side in an unusual setting.
When Pam Moses, in Crumlin, County Antrim, first joined an innovative Side by Side service at a local hospital, her reservations were understandable.
‘My father and father-in-law both had dementia at the same time.’ she says. They were in care homes at the same time and died on the same day.’
As their dementia progressed, her father was often weepy and emotional, while her father-in-law’s behaviour could be challenging. Even with Side by Side’s excellent training and support, volunteering in a unit for people with dementia who need months of intensive assessment was likely to recall difficult memories.
‘After going in the first time I wasn’t sure, because it reminded me of Dad,’ says Pam, aged 70.
However, it quickly became clear that she had found a powerful way to draw on her passion to make a difference.
‘My husband says he never sees me get up so fast as on the days that I volunteer on the ward!’
Side by Side volunteers usually support people with dementia in the community, helping them to continue doing whatever gives them joy in life. The service in Northern Ireland’s Northern Trust area takes that support into two hospitals.
One, Holywell Hospital, has a unit for people with dementia who are experiencing significant problems, ranging from personal care issues to behaviours that challenge.
‘It’s an amazing place. It’s a privilege to spend time with the patients,’ says Pam.
‘I thought that volunteering at Holywell might be a little scary because of the stigma of the hospital,’ says Pam, ‘but being on the ward, I can honestly say that’s not the case – it’s an amazing place. It’s a privilege to spend time with the patients.’
Side by Side
Our Side by Side service links people living with dementia to volunteers, so they can keep doing the things they love.
Volunteers work in partnership with ward staff, who help them identify who would benefit from one-to-one or group activities that day.
Pam says, ‘We do lots of talking, singing and crafts. A few are farmers, and I’m from a farming community so I take a farming magazine in.’
For people who can walk about, photos on the ward’s walls prompt memories.
‘They’ll stop with me at the pictures and we’ll talk about the places in them.’
‘If a loved one of mine was in Holywell, I’d love a volunteer to come in and spend time with them,’ says Pam.
Even patients with very advanced dementia enjoy hand massage.
‘One lady loves that I rub her hands. She can be quite aggressive, but it calms her down. I’ll ask her if she likes it and she’ll nod her head.’
For Pam, this kind of feedback makes the challenge more than worthwhile.
‘If a loved one of mine was in Holywell, I’d love a volunteer to come in and spend time with them.’