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Volunteer Orientation and Workshop

No matter how bad the persons memory is or how strange his behavior, he is still a unique and special human being. Nancy L. Mace & Peter V. Rabins

What is dementia?

Dementia describes a group of symptoms and is not the name of a disease or diseases that cause the symptoms. There are two major conditions that result in the symptoms of mental confusion, memory loss, disorientation, intellectual impairments, or similar problems. The conditions being either dementia or the second being delirium. The symptoms of dementia can be caused by many different diseases. Some of the diseases are treatable, others are not. Alzheimers disease is the most frequent cause of irreversible dementia in adults. Severe memory loss is NEVER a normal part of growing older; about 80% of people who live into very old age never experience a significant memory loss or other symptoms of dementia. Currently there is no cure for Alzheimer's. However, there are some new treatments that may slow the progress of the disease. Research has also shown that effective care and support can improve quality of life for individuals and their caregivers over the course of the disease from diagnosis to the end of life. Some common behaviors of dementia are repetition, sleeplessness, wandering, confusion, agitation, hallucinations, suspicion, and aggression. The person with dementia may experience changes in communication such as difficulty finding the right words, using familiar words repeatedly, inventing new words to describe familiar objects or using old words in the wrong ways, easily lose their train of thought, difficulty organizing words logically, using curse words, speaking less often, and relying on gestures instead of speaking.

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Communication: There are tools one may use as a volunteer, in order to best
communicate with someone with Alzheimers disease. There are two kinds of problems with communication: the problems a person with dementia has in expressing himself to others, and the problems he has in understanding what people say to him. Make sure he does hear you. Lower the tone of your voice. Eliminate distracting noises or activities. Use short words and short, simple sentences. Avoid complex sentences. Ask only ONE simple question at a time. Ask the person to do one task at a time, not several. Speak slowly, and wait for the person to respond.

Nonverbal Communication: Sometimes communicating verbally can be


confusing; therefore, there are wonderful ways to communicate nonverbally as well. Remain pleasant, calm, and supportive. When you are upset or feeling stressed, body language can easily be picked-up, regardless if one has Alzheimers or not. Smile, take the persons hand, put an arm around his waist, or in some other physical way express affection if you know this helps. Look directly at him. One knows when you are not paying attention. Eye contact is wonderful and important. Use other signals beside words: point, touch, hand the person things. Avoid assuming complex reasons for the persons behavior. Because the persons brain can no longer process information properly, he experiences the world around and within differently from the way you see things.

Other Tips for communication:

Keep good eye contact.


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Show the person that you care about what is being said. Let the person think about and describe whatever he or she wants to. Be careful not to interrupt. Avoid criticizing, correcting and arguing. If you don't understand what is being said, ask the person to point or gesture. Look for the feelings behind the words. Always approach the person from the front. Tell the person who you are. Call the person by name. It helps orient the person and gets his or her attention. Use short, simple words and sentences. Talk slowly and clearly. Ask one question at a time. Patiently wait for a response. A person may need extra time to process your request. Repeat information and questions. If the person doesn't respond, wait a moment. Then ask again. Reminiscing can be healthy, but avoid asking, "Do you remember when...?" Give simple but complete explanations. Avoid using logic and reason at great length. You may need to speak louder than you are used to, but avoid yelling.

Pointers for successful conversation:


Have conversations with participants and the group as you would with your friends, colleagues and family (your peers and equals). During conversation address the person by name. Smile, be sincere, be complimentary, be enthusiastic, be positive Remember that developing friendships is a building process.

Daily Schedule
The order and approximate times of certain events can change from day to day, as well as actual activities because of changes in volunteers and staff.

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10:00 am Participants arrive. Volunteers greet then and sit with them at the table, get them something to drink 10:00-11:00 am - Morning snack, a light breakfast, is served. We usually place it on the table and pass or serve it casually around the table. During this time we will visit with participants one-on-one: read something together, look through magazines or books, do puzzles, trivia, or just chat. We may work on a small project from 10:30-11:00am if everyone has arrived. 11:00-12:00 pm - Morning activity, usually Arts project, music, or some sort of game. Volunteers sit next to participants to assist and encourage them in the activity. 12:00-1:00 pm - Lunch is served after everyone has gone to the bathroom, washed hands, used hand sanitizer and a one of the participants has said a blessing. One or two volunteers serve tea, lunch and desert, clear the plates and assist in cleanup while the rest of the volunteers sit around the table with participants and staff while we all enjoy a meal together. 1:00 -1:50 pm - Afternoon activity, which is often some type of exercise or game. Volunteers assist with the activity and help encourage participants. Things to be done all day: Help participants move from place to place and helping them to stand and sit down. Escort certain participants to the bathroom (only the ones that need a guide staff will take care of the others that need more help). Socialize with participants. Sometimes you will accomplish this by sitting by someone and demonstrating the project step-by-step and at times you will work directly with someone on an activity starting each step with them and encouraging as they go along. When you demonstrate interest and express positive feelings about activities you set the mood for participants.

Useful Tips:

Some participants may wander, please be aware of where people are and if they begin to wander, walk around with them before rejoining the group.

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Be familiar with participant profiles so you have ideas about what to talk about, or you can ask an experienced volunteer which subjects might be sensitive or particularly fun with certain participants. In this program, safe, non-invasive touch is fine. Even though some participants may not be able to communicate clearly, the use of a hug or a backrub can be reassuring to them. Be patient with participants; if you're having a rough time with them, imagine what they're feeling. If you feel you cannot manage a certain participant, ask another volunteer to step in or switch off. Most of all have fun!

Tips for Activities:

Is the participant enjoying what they are doing? The final product is not important but their level of satisfaction is very important. Let the project go in a different direction if you see someone responding positively to a certain task. Are the participants being engaged and are they given opportunities to interact as part of the activity? Not every activity will interest every participant. If this is the case initiate conversation about the activity, how something looks, feels, smells, or something else related to the task while the group continues. Are your actions conveying teacher or facilitator? Are volunteers placed effectively to ensure that lower functioning participants have someone to assist them (not to do for them, but assist) as needed? Leave clean up of activities until after the program to ensure all participants needs are being met. Cleaning up signals that something is over and it is time to move on. If there is enough help, then discrete clean up can be done during the program.

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