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Changing Perceptions:
Enhancing Dementia Care by Developing Volunteers

Dementia is currently a main issue for the UK as dementia
has overtaken cardiovascular disease as Britain’s biggest killer of women (World
Health Organisation). Aiding a person with dementia is a highly specialized role, which requires expert
knowledge, skills, and attitudes. This opinion
piece will examine the challenges faces by volunteers and how dementia care can
be enhanced by improving volunteer’s perspectives and training. Further advice
for future research is also explored.

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is currently at an all-time high. The proportion of people volunteering
over the last 12 months has increased in recent years. Between 2000 and 2015,
participation rates increased from 39% to 41% for men and from 39% to 42% for
women (reference). Volunteers are one of the
main sources of care support due to their low cost. The cost is of the dementia
sector is over £26 billion. The working value of carers is over £11 billion
attributing to lowering the cost of dementia care.

Overall there appears to be a gap in the literature
regarding volunteers especially in the dementia field (Herron et al., 2015). There
are many strengths to volunteering. Volunteers are a key asset to the dementia
field, many work solely for the client without the need for added burocrcy. Volunteers
are enhancing what is done by paid staff. Clients can see volunteers as a
person to trust therefore are willing to disclose issues that may be troubling
in their life increasing safe guarding.

What needs to be changed?

Whilst working
at Age UK I found that volunteers who were working there had many
misconceptions of dementia.  This was
surprising to me as many people had worked within the organisation for a while.
During a discussion there were some obvious points that volunteers wanted to
gain knowledge of these included, neuropsychology of dementia, lowering self-risk
of dementia.

What are some of the challenges faced by volunteers?

There are
many emotional challenges associated with aiding people with. Some emotional
challenges are feelings of demotivation, discouragement, feeling ineffective (Smith
et al., 2017). Befrienders report feelings of guilt and anxiety and higher levels
of depression persist for years after the end of caring (Smith et al., 2017). In
a study conducted by Guerra et al., (2012) volunteers were fearful in regards
to inadequate performance,
inadequate relationships, and taking on a big responsibility. Volunteers who
feared an inadequate relationship and wanted to learn more about how to
communicate with the person with dementia. The volunteers reported a need to
share experiences and to socialize with families (difficult
with ethics). Another concern which arose during my experience was dealing
with loss. Many volunteers build up relationships with the clients and
experienced loss when either the client was no longer able to come or had died.
In some instances the volunteer was not informed and this caused distress and
there seemed to be limited support available. There does not seem to be a clear
cut way of training and supporting volunteers across boroughs and charities.

What needs to be done?

I feel that providing continual training throughout volunteering
clarifies the nature and boundaries of the role and identifies
potentially difficult situations. Sharing of ideas can enable volunteers
to find new strategies to use
such as using memory boxes to store well known items as a supportive tool. Recognise
that as a person’s mental capacity declines, volunteers need to find
appropriate ways to identify the best interest of the patient in order to
maintain a high quality of life. Support is a key aspect for volunteers for example if person who has dementia
says something inappropriate then the volunteer knows it may be because of
behaviour change and can learn techniques of how to cope with this.

Further research into volunteers especially in the dementia
sector as volunteers are heavily relied on. The effects of carer stress is it
similar in volunteers and what actions need to be taken to achieve better
conditions for the individuals. What training needs to be put in place to
adequately prepare the volunteers for an overall better experience and ideal
knowledge to satisfactory care for those with dementia?


volunteering improves overall QOL (Robinson et al., 2014)

QOL: perceived health benefits, sense of
purpose and sense of usefulness, and relationships.


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