When Sandy Smith was asked to be part of the Alzheimer Society’s Volunteer Companion Program about a decade ago, she knew she could spare a couple hours a week to help out.
It’s a drop in the bucket, she thought.
But the ripple effect that time has on the lives of others is far from insignificant.
Sandy has since been paired with six people living with dementia, and has been with her current match for almost three years.
Every week, they have a cup of coffee, chat and Sandy makes lunch. It sounds routine, but she says each visit brings something different - just like each match has been a unique experience. One man she was with liked to work with his hands, so they would build small kits such as birdhouses. With another match, each week brought a new outing, from going to a museum to driving around the countryside.
“It’s different with every person I’m with,” she says.
Sandy had some experience with dementia before she started volunteering; she believes her mother and grandmother both lived with dementia before they passed away. As they were undiagnosed, neither accessed programs to help them deal with the disease.
Sandy herself had no idea of the range of programs the Alzheimer Society offers. She learned a lot in training about how to deal with different situations that might arise with her matches. The Alzheimer Society have also continued to support her throughout her volunteering.
“They’re always just a phone call away. If there’s anything I felt was happening I didn’t feel I was prepared for, I would just phone and say, ‘this has happened, what could I have done or should I have done?’”
Sandy - who also helps out every year at the Walk for Alzheimer’s and has been involved with a training program for college students - finds the Volunteer Companion Program extremely rewarding.
Whether she has a fun couple of hours with her match, or if they’re having a more challenging week, Sandy gets the satisfaction of knowing she’s helping someone else. That time also offers a break for caregivers.
“I only realized once I was in it just how huge the need is in terms of the toll of being a caregiver,” she says. “It’s a 24/7 kind of role, and if I can provide two hours away from that for somebody, then that’s not a big deal in my current life.”