Our Dementia Buddies spend time on the wards of Medway Maritime Hospital with patients who have dementia. Due to the coronavirus pandemic our Dementia Buddies are currently unable to work in the hospital however, as it is Volunteers Week we wanted to tell you about some of the fantastic work they do. 

Earlier this year, I went to Medway Maritime Hospital and spent some time with two of our Dementia Buddies Marilyn and Kate.  Unlike our other Buddies, Marilyn and Kate work as a pair on the wards.  Sometimes a person living with dementia may respond to certain people better than others depending on how they feel, so working as a pair gives them the chance to change it up and ensure everyone is getting the support that they need. 

They volunteer once a week for 4 hours at a time and depending on how much support is needed, they will usually see to around 10 patients on each shift. On Wakely ward where Marilyn and Kate are usually stationed, most of the patients are bed bound as it is a frailty ward.  As you can imagine for a person living with dementia, being in hospital and especially being bed bound can be a frightening experience for them, so the emotional support from our Dementia Buddies is vital. 

Every day is different as a Dementia Buddy but the types of things they help with is feeding, brushing patients’ hair, fetching snacks, making tea and for the most part, just having a nice chat and being a listening ear.  Sometimes just having a friendly face that isn’t a member of staff can be a lifeline for patients who have dementia and in some cases allows them to open up and share their thoughts and feelings more comfortably. 

We know NHS staff are always under immense pressure and have so many patients to tend to which means sometimes it may prove difficult to understand the complex backgrounds and emotional needs for every patient.  For example, a patient Marilyn and Kate were both supporting had a habit of tapping her fingers constantly.  Unsure whether it was a sign of anxiety or stress they decided to investigate a little and they discovered the lady was a coder at Bletchley Park in the war, so the tapping was in fact her going back to her coding days.  Finding out these details about a person’s life is a great way to help understand their likes, dislikes and behaviours so that they get the best support possible and alterations can be made to their care if necessary. 

Marilyn and Kate recognise the need for patience and take time to look below the surface of how a person living with dementia may be feeling.  Empathy and understanding can go a long way to gaining patients’ trust and helping them unlock some happiness to their day.  When I asked them what they liked about being Dementia Buddies they expressed how making a difference to someone’s day gave them such great job satisfaction and the variety of spending time with different people keeps the role interesting. 

I spent some time on the ward observing a day in the life of a Dementia Buddy and it became apparent very quickly just how important our volunteers are to the patients at Medway Maritime Hospital.  Some recognised Marilyn and Kate straight away and immediately their faces lit up.  There was another lady who was very emotional and distressed but after 5 minutes of talking to Marilyn was content and no longer tearful.  Their proactive way of working can only be admired, they straight away thought of solutions to problems making sure no patients’ needs go unmet.  I asked one of the patients what they think about our Dementia Buddies and her response was ‘we need more of that round here’. 

Although we are not back on the wards just yet, if you would like to register your interest to become a Dementia Buddy or find out some more information about the scheme please give us a call on 07939308573 or email [email protected]

Abbie Boyd, Communications Officer