Volunteers’ Week: Saige-Alexandra’s Story

My name is Saige-Alexandra Denson and my role within Medway Maritime Hospital is a Dementia Buddy. I started volunteering in July 2022 and the role has changed my life an unbelievable amount. I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder and PTSD. I was out of work for a long time due to this but knew I wanted to work alongside Alzheimer’s and Dementia Support Services (ADSS) patients. Becoming a volunteer was to help me gain experience and build my confidence up in order to get back into paid work. Not only has my role allowed me to become a new person and more confident, but it has also allowed me to learn from the patients, learn from the families, doctors, and nurses. Every week I learn something new that helps the next patient I visit which in turn allows me to look after them better.

I have learnt from patients that actions are more effective than just words, holding their hand during stressful and sad times takes away that feeling of loneliness and confusion. By simply playing music, it serves as a powerful tool which brings joy to their faces and even though they may not remember it later you can see how much it meant to them in that moment. When they don’t remember their own children’s name but can sing a whole song they loved as a child, when they don’t recognise their partner but recognise a picture of their favourite singer, the same also goes for films, they can recite it word for word with tears of joy to both music and films.

Patients have taught me living in the present is important, because that’s all they have, they could have the best day and not remember any of it, they know they are happy but cannot remember why but they know it’s because something exciting happened that day. They have also taught me that everyone is different, everyone’s 5 minutes are different, 2 people with the same diagnosis do not have the same experiences, even at the same level of progression, they show their emotions different and have different reactions to things, different likes, and dislikes.

I feel dementia patients deserve the care, love, and support of Dementia buddies. We are someone who is there when family and friends cannot be, when nurses are busy and there is no one else.

A hand to hold during a rough 5 minutes or bad day, when they are scared, alone, confused and desperately wanting to go home back to their parents who have sadly already passed but they do not remember.

The love and reassurance provided can improve a patient’s mood, keep them calm, help them sleep, and help them not feel afraid and alone. I have had many patients hold my hand and thank me, tears in their eyes, unable to express how happy and grateful they are, families who have sent me letters for holding their family members hand during end of life when they could not be there themselves.

I pride myself on being someone who advocates for the patients when they are unable to or family is not there, I treat all patients like family members and always give 100% effort on my part.

My day is always made when I start off with a patient who is down, depressed and upset for me to leave them feeling happier, uplifted, and seen, I know I’ve done a good job when I get a smile, laugh or song out of someone and it never fails to remind me how lucky I am to have this role.

I cannot find a single reason why dementia buddies shouldn’t be in every hospital, every patient benefits, there are no cons. It also benefits the staff who are then able to carry on taking care of other patients, including others with Dementia and Alzheimer’s. To remove dementia buddies would have unfortunate consequences on patients and I feel would quickly lead to a downfall in terms of their mental health and rate of their condition progressing further.

Saige-Alexandra Denson

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