Volunteering in Dementia Care
5 June 2017
Vikki McCall from the University of Stirling (as part of a cross organisational team) has recently completed a 3 year study into the role of volunteers in dementia care. This blog provides a very useful overview of their extensive findings.
Our project looking at the role of volunteers in dementia care suggests that not only do volunteers have an impact in the area of dementia care but there can be a two-way process that has a positive impact on volunteers, carers and people living with dementia.
Whether they remember it or not, at that hour, they…they’re having fun and I think…I love seeing people being happy…. It’s a win/win really. There’s no negatives really. It…you know, because it’s all good that’s happening.
Female Volunteer, Cumbria
The project has shown a range of positive elements from being connected with volunteering in dementia care through a variety of settings. One of the most important roles is the ability of volunteers to be a ‘bridge’ or conduit between the community and people living with dementia and their carers. Volunteers were also central in combatting stigma and challenging societal norms and understanding around dementia.
This is important as although there has been an increasing focus within policy and community support for those with dementia, the role of volunteers is generally overlooked. For example, in the current proposal for Scotland’s National Dementia Strategy and Living well with dementia: A National Dementia Strategy in England the word ‘volunteer’ is not mentioned.
Our project suggests that we are missing an opportunity in regards to including and supporting volunteers in the area of dementia care. Other countries, such as Japan, are looking to lower cost solutions through volunteer schemes. In Norway, there has been some exploration around the potential of volunteers to support health care services around dementia.
Our project suggests many social benefits for volunteers in being involved in activities with those living with dementia and their carers. Volunteers described a sense of satisfaction and wellbeing that was derived from the feeling that they were making a positive impact on individuals. Although selflessness was a key theme, volunteers acknowledged a two-way process where they also received an enjoyable experience and particularly liked the sense of feeling needed.
And I just thoroughly enjoyed it. So for me, being a volunteer…I was learning. I was giving…I was putting something back, ‘cause I really think that’s important. I feel that’s important. Gives you a purpose. And you’re contributing maybe to their lives. If you can come away thinking, today I made someone happy or made them smile or I touched them or I reached them, for me that’s a really important aspect of working with people with dementia. You respect that person and somehow you make some meaning.
Female Volunteer, Cumbria
In the area of dementia care the barriers between volunteers, carers and staff were blurred. Those living with dementia do not draw lines and see everyone as simply a part of their network. Volunteers were often also motivated and attracted to volunteering in this area because of the support they could give to carers.
Also I think for the carers, yes, they can talk about how they feel and they can talk about how they feel without being judged with each other and with you… So I think it’s about a 50/50 role really so I would say our use is we’re there for as much for the carers as for the people with dementia. It’s the same thing, really.
Female Volunteer, Cumbria
However, the study also shows some clear learning points for volunteers and organisations. At some points there was evidence that volunteers can make families / carers feel guilty or come across as interfering. Also, given the nature of dementia, it can take longer for relationships to form and for the impact of the volunteering to be seen. So sustainability and consistency in this area was extremely important.
The lessons for organisations that have volunteers in this area included a focus on training and support, especially at the beginning of the volunteer’s journey and in times of bereavement. A key player in this should be the volunteer coordinator as much of the positive experiences of volunteers were dependent on the support of this person. Volunteers were often loyal to individuals over and above a particular organisation.
The project indicates that initial and ongoing training is important in this area, a good and consistent volunteer coordinator is vital for support and agencies involved with volunteering in dementia should focus on building longer-term volunteering opportunities as this enables trusting relationships to be built within the person with dementia’s social networks and allow more positive impacts.
These are only some of the themes from the project, led by Dr Vikki McCall at the University of Stirling. This project has been driven by the objective of creating a useful, applicable set of insights for volunteering in dementia care. The ultimate aim has been to develop guidance for organisations involved with volunteers, people living with dementia, and carers. To view this visit the Asume website.
Go visit now to see how we can support volunteers, people with dementia and carers!