Monday, July 3, 2017

Volunteering, Making Friends with People Who Have Dementia (Research)

A hospice volunteer many years in Detroit, Michigan nursing homes with residents who had dementia, I was delighted to find research about volunteers “befriending” people with this disease. This study included a small group of nine volunteers who were younger and older adults. Responding to interview questions, they shared their friendship experiences in detail. They emphasized numerous complex and unique processes that generated issues of power, equality, and boundaries. These are some of the rewards they received from volunteering. Remember, good volunteering is always win-win:

1)   Making friends with people who have dementia was described as “a deeply personal and human experience, often with emotional power and profound meaning.”
2)   Volunteers were able to see past dementia stereotypes.
3)   Volunteers’ personal assumptions and boundaries were challenged.
4)   Volunteers became more reflective about love, life, and humanness.

This research concluded that future studies should consider the experiences of those receiving the volunteer service, ways of making the mutual friendship more effective, and more exploration of volunteer difficulties and support.

The recommendation that I would make to all volunteers and anyone else making friends with people who have dementia is based on what I have learned while making friends with my hospice patients and others who have dementia. I have included this advice in number four of my list titled Hospice Volunteer Success in 10 Steps:” 

4) Try other doors.

Patients will have challenges such as dementia that may not respond to your usual front-door communication. Try other doors and even windows. Obstacles are enrichment opportunities in your partnerships with patients. Touch, music, pictures, stories, and fantasies are a few entry points. Let patients help you navigate your way into their world.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

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