LONELINESS is experienced by many people as they get older, and for those living with dementia, that feeling can be even worse.
Research by the Alzheimer’s Society has found nearly two-thirds (63%) of people with dementia who live alone are lonely.
But it doesn’t have to be that way — and chances are, you can do something about it.
As little as a few minutes of your time can make an enormous difference to a person with dementia, and that’s why the Alzheimer’s Society is recruiting volunteers to its Side by Side campaign, which pairs volunteers and people with dementia.
Kathryn Smith, Alzheimer’s Society director of operations, is a volunteer herself.
“One of the most-important things for a person with dementia is to continue to do the things they love — from going shopping to enjoying a football match,” she says.
“Side by Side, offering one-to-one support, is a vital step to making this a reality.”
The campaign was first piloted in 2014, after research found people with dementia were more at risk of loneliness.
A third of dementia sufferers said they’d lost friends since their diagnosis, and a few didn’t even tell friends they had it.
Many feel trapped in their own homes, with almost one in 10 only leaving the house once a month.
That’s where Side by Side can make a real difference.
This could mean going to a football match, for a stroll in the park, keeping someone company while going shopping or attending appointments.
The scheme is also looking for volunteers just to ring people with dementia and chat.
Kathryn was paired with a man who likes horses, and she rides, too, so the two had a shared interest.
“Sometimes he might not want to go out at all, he might just want some company, and that’s fine,” she says.
“Loneliness is one of the biggest problems for people with dementia, and we’ve got a big list of people waiting to be matched up with volunteers.”
Side by Side is currently available in 29 locations nationwide, and it’s hoped the scheme will be rolled out further, as there’s a waiting list of almost 2,000 people.
The Alzheimer’s Society provides volunteers, who must be over 18 and undergo a criminal records check, with online training to give them a basic awareness of dementia.
A “matching meeting” is then held with the volunteer.
“We make sure you’re going to hit it off,” says Kathryn.
“If you don’t, it’s fine for either person to say they don’t think the match will work and can they try someone else — but that hasn’t happened yet.
“Even if you’ve only got half an hour available once a month, there’ll be somebody you can support with that.”
Current Side by Side volunteers have said they’ve gained and shared skills, developed new friendships and enhanced their CV.
Irene Woodward, 66, who has dementia and lives in Leicester, says since meeting Side by Side volunteer Winnie Horton, her life has improved.
“I was at a low point when I first met Winnie — my partner had died, then I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Meeting Winnie was a breath of fresh air, and we’ve had great days out,” she says.
Fiona Phillips, broadcaster and Alzheimer’s Society ambassador, was recently paired with Irene too, as they share a love of football.
“Both my parents had dementia, and I wish a service like Side by Side had been in place for them,” says Fiona.
“It was wonderful spending the day with Irene watching our rival teams — Leicester City and Chelsea.”
To find out more about Side by Side, visit www.alzheimers.org.uk or call 0330 333 0804. For the Alzheimer’s Society National Dementia Helpline, call 0300 222 1122.