How did you hear about VASA?
‘First of all I was a service user at VASA taking my mother-in-law to the Dementia Café and that’s how I got to know the charity. Janis, VASA’s Communities Manager, was so flexible and so welcoming to new people and people who were already in the group. It’s a lovely network.’
What do you enjoy about volunteering?
‘I enjoy trying to find out what makes people have a little spark. And sometimes it’s quite hard to find but when you do it’s very satisfying.’
What’s your favourite activity?
‘I really enjoy music. Music is brilliant, absolutely brilliant, it brings people alive.
How would you use music in an activity?
‘Trying to find out everybody’s favourite song, writing it down, and then with the lyrics, you’d miss a few words out and see if you could remember the word that fitted the lyric. Then we’d sing it. It didn’t have to be a fantastic performance at all, it didn’t even need to have instruments to accompany, it was just so much fun to sing these songs with people, songs they could still remember.
My mother-in-law had a song that she sang at her own wedding reception and she could still remember the words and she would sing it to the group and it gave her a lot of pleasure to remember that song. Happy memories are attached to a favourite song.’
VASA’s Community Café is for people to meet up in a warm, friendly place. It’s designed to be a dementia friendly space so great for people living with dementia and their carers too.
‘Yes, I think it’s just as important for the partner, as for those living with dementia because you really need someone to talk to, you really need conversation and somebody to understand what your life is like.
You find when you’re a carer and you have so many new things to cope with, speaking to someone in another family who has similar issues is so helpful, better than the most academic well-researched book about the issue, just talking to someone about getting up in the night and what you are doing. You find you make friends more quickly than you would under different circumstances because you’re talking about serious things.’
While you’ve been volunteering with VASA, is there a particular moment that sticks in your mind?
‘There are loads! But I remember one particular time at the Dementia Café group, a couple had only just started coming and we were still getting to know them. Her husband was telling people about his interests and so on but his wife was quiet and couldn’t really engage in conversation. We were doing something musical and a Rock n Roll song came on, the two of them looked at each other, stood up and started dancing. Not just shuffling about like I would have done but proper Rock n Roll, it was amazing. People were gobsmacked and sat there clapping, it was fantastic. And that was something they had enjoyed in their lives and that moment was there with the music.’
How do you help trigger memories?
Through reminiscence because ‘reminiscence is enjoyable for everybody, we all like looking at things from our childhood, old toys for example so all you have to do is get an object and people say: “oh, I used to have a Barbie!” It brings the memories back and you can talk about your school days. So reminiscence is fun for everyone. Quizzes are fun so VASA has lots of quizzes that work on different levels. You might not have a memory that remembers lots of different facts but it might be a quiz to remember a film star’s name or something like that. We use a mixture of verbal and non-verbal activities, tactile things too.’
What do you think are the most important characteristics to be a volunteer?
‘Curiosity! About people’s lives and curiosity about what makes people tick. And open-mindedness…wanting to listen and wanting to observe. Because it’s not always through speech that you can tell what someone does or doesn’t like.
Openness and enjoyment of being with other people, that’s the satisfaction of it, that you’re in a little community and you can appreciate individuals that way.’
Is being a carer a requirement to be a volunteer?
‘No, you don’t have to have been a carer to be a volunteer with VASA, you just have to be interested in people and want to have a bit of fun. As a volunteer – on an individual level – you can find out the best way to communicate with each person. Being a volunteer is an interesting experience and very satisfying.’