Carol volunteers as an Adventure Supporter for Dementia Adventure. We spoke to Carol about her experiences, and what it’s like to volunteer as a Adventures Supporter.
Why did you choose to volunteer for Dementia Adventure?
I’d heard of Dementia Adventure through an ex-work colleague who already volunteers for DA. Having heard the positive feedback from her, and the carers and people with dementia who have participated in the holidays I felt it would be a worthwhile and rewarding thing to do.
I felt my knowledge and experience of supporting this cliental over the past 15 years as a Dementia Support Worker would be helpful and I feel passionate about maintaining independence for people with dementia.
Do you have any personal experience with dementia?
My mum had dementia and through her I realised how important holidays were for both of us. I could just go off on holiday if I wanted to, but she couldn’t do that on her own. Because I know how important it was for my mum to have holidays, I know how important it is for other people living with dementia. I also worked for the Alzheimer’s Society.
What, typically, do you do in your role as a volunteer?
I’m there to offer a helping hand and a friendly smile. I’m there to help everything to go smoothly, from having breakfast to bedtime. You’re up first to greet the clients with a good morning and a smile and set the right scene for the day. I always try to make sure people aren’t sitting alone too long. I would join in with the activities, and try to take time to find out their life journey and what they did before the diagnosis. I would help with a variety of practical things, but it’s not all serious, it’s fun. It’s important to be yourself, as it helps others to relax and be themselves too.
What do you like about volunteering for DA?
I like the fact that you’re allowed into people’s lives for a short period of time to enable them to have a relaxing holiday. You can take a little of pressure off the carer by supporting the person living with dementia and allow them to unwind a little. Throughout the week, you’re giving them time and space whilst reassuring them. You’re connecting people with the great outdoors—you learn so much by taking people out and about, seeing nature through their eyes. It’s a great experience.
How would you describe your experiences with DA?
Everything is well organised and well supported. There’s always a Plan B and the Adventure Leader is fantastic. As a volunteer, I feel fully supported by the team and the other volunteers and I know that we could address any problems.
It’s an emotional rollercoaster, but it’s very uplifting. There’s always a positive. On my most recent holiday there was a gentleman with dementia who I would take walks with. On our walks he would point out the flowers, saying “the yellow one, the white one”—even though he had lost the words for the specific flowers, he was still acting as my nature guide. It was wonderful to see him so engaged.
Do you have a personal highlight?
For me, it’s when I find a connection with the person living with dementia. They might not necessarily be communicating with me verbally, but you see their positive feedback in other ways, when you see them being more relaxed and open.
What have you learnt about dementia?
Everyone’s unique, everyone’s different—see the person, not the diagnosis. I’m still learning after 17 years of experience with people living in dementia. It really doesn’t matter that they can’t describe something, it’s the emotional side that’s special. You learn so much, as you see it through their eyes.
Would you volunteer for us again?
Without a doubt—no hesitation—and within any kind of setting, because a new experience for people with dementia is a new experience for me and I’m sharing it with them. I’m already signed up for another three holidays this year.
What would you say to people thinking of volunteering?
I’d definitely recommend it—I already have! It is tiring, but it’s so rewarding. Strangers at the beginning of the holiday become a family and leave as friends.
Give it a go, you’ve nothing to lose! You can make so much difference to that experience by bringing some of yourself to it. There’s nothing not to enjoy about it.