No previous experience necessary! Someone with Alzheimer's may have some limitations but both they and their caregiver will get so much from your attention and the activities you offer them. Anything a volunteer can offer is likely to be highly valued.
There is a lot that friends, relatives and concerned members of the community can do to help people with Alzheimer's. Seven stages of Alzheimer's have been identified. In this Sharepost I look at the disease using a more simple three-stage model of symptoms and the loss of function: the early stage, the middle stage and the severe stage. It provides a framework around which I can offer general tips on how you can help make the life of someone with the disease more fulfilling and happier.
If you are thinking of volunteering it may help you make up your mind by contacting your local Alzheimer's Association. They can give you more information and you can meet other volunteers. Knowing a bit about the disease can help too.
Early Stage Volunteering
Do activities each day that keep up skills the person already has and enjoys. As the disease progresses one-to-one activities become more important and doing things such as helping at social events, taking time to talk and listen, allows them to feel included.
Regular exercise that takes account of any diseases or other co-existing health issues will help keep them fit and as mobile as possible - nature walks or shopping trips for example. Most people with Alzheimer's still enjoy goal-directed activities such as quizzes, crafts and hobbies. Reminiscence activities are good as they access well rehearsed memories. Reading should still be possible.
Women love make up, hair and nail care sessions. Men may prefer being taken to ball games, sport venues.
As in all stages of Alzheimer's doing activities that keep up skills the person already has and enjoys can make your time together more enjoyable.
Language and communication skills may be affected so keep sentences simple. Here is a link to more about ways to encourage communication in Alzheimer's disease.
Be flexible. In the mid-stage of the disease people begin to require assistance with complicated tasks such as planning and doing things like shopping, cooking, finding stuff. If they are not enjoying the activity you planned change it.
Remembering the time sequence and events of their lives has often become difficult. They forget recent history and have trouble concentrating. Take that into account.
At this stage they may be subdued and anxious especially in challenging situations, so your job as volunteer is to help them make things easier. Allow time in activities
Severe Stage Volunteering
As the section heading suggests, memory problems have worsened and people at this stage of the disease start to forget significant amounts of information about themselves and their surroundings. They may well forget the name of their spouse and will probably not remember you from your last visit. Volunteering for people in this stage of Alzheimer's may require more experience so discuss this with the volunteer coordinator. For instance what activity you plan to do and where it is going to take place.
People with severe Alzheimer's can be very confused and may wander. They can become lost, so be vigilant if you take them out. You may well have to take them to the bathroom so go in stores where they have single cubicles and you can wait outside with the door shut but not locked, in case they require assistance.
They will require significant assistance so you need guidance from their primary caregiver on what activities to do with them. The important thing is that you can give them your time and attention.
Personality and emotional changes do occur. Delusions, suspicious, obsessive behavior and anxiety may be exhibited. Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there) may be experienced. If the person with Alzheimer's becomes distressed stop the activity. because they are confused, frustrated or frightened. Do remember though that they may also be communicating to you what they want but no longer have the skills to be more obvious because they cannot tell you directly.
If you find it too difficult volunteering for an individual speak to the coordinator to change clients. Do that rather than give up this incredibly valuable community role.
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Published On: August 31, 2011