BY SEAN MALINOWSKI
The Alzheimer Society of Waterloo Wellington offers a unique volunteer opportunity. Once a week for a two-hour period, a volunteer from the community will relieve a caregiver of his or her duties, and hang out with an individual living with dementia.
Stephanie Vigil is the volunteer companion program co-ordinator. She meets with the clients and their families, and then meets volunteers. From there, she plays matchmaker.
“Most families are open to it. It’s a great opportunity for socialization for their loved one,” Vigil said. “I really try to emphasize to our volunteers that you are not there as a doctor or a nurse, you are there as a friend.”
Popular companion program activities include grabbing a cup of coffee, playing cards or going for a walk. Volunteers are asked to stay for a minimum of six months. Many develop great relationships with their companions that lead to longer assignments.
“We aren’t asking you to take them to the movies, or out for meals. It’s more for that meaningful connection,” Vigil said – connection that builds better understanding, and debunks the Alzheimer stigma that is still prevalent in our society.
“We all have preconceptions of what dementia is and understanding it,” Vigil said. “Just with any stigma-related issue, it’s just working to educate the public.”
At the moment, there are currently 45 companion program matches in the Waterloo and Wellington area. The program is geared toward individuals who live in the community, including those in a retirement home or their own home. If clients agree that they are interested in the program, they will be put on the waiting list. Today, 50 clients are on the wait list for a volunteer companion.
First-year general arts and science student Michelle Pratten knows how dementia can have a heavy effect on a family.
“It’s frightening to see someone you love, someone who was so independent, become so reliant,” Pratten said. “It’s difficult to watch.”
On Sunday, Jan. 31, a Walk for Alzheimer’s will be commencing at multiple locations in the area including Waterloo, Guelph, Mount Forest and Cambridge.
“Fifty-five per cent of our funding comes from donations and events, 45 per cent comes from the government. So the walk is one of our biggest events, and always a lot of fun,” Vigil said.
The nationwide initiative brings vital financial support to help enhance local service quality. If you are interested in the walk or volunteering visit www.alzheimer.ca/en/ww.