Lane is a very busy member of our community but that doesn’t stop him from giving up time every week to be a regular companion for people living with dementia and giving their carer respite. Here Lane explains why volunteering for Alzheimers Northland is so important to him.
My father in law was 86 when he was diagnosed with dementia. We went through what I would call a denial process where it’s not recognised and nobody in the family really wants to admit that it’s happening. We went through that for 2-3 years or even longer. He was in a relationship but when he started to deteriorate mentally we found that his older partner was no longer able to cope with him physically or mentally. He went into a rest home. We would go up and visit him. He would have little episodes where he would look out of the window and see things that obviously weren’t there. And we thought that was cute. But then his condition changed dramatically. There wasn’t anything that accelerated the decline. I think it is a condition that follows its path and for some people that’s quite steep for some people that’s much slower. But for him it followed a fairly predictable trajectory. He was 6ft 4 and was unable to control his emotions so he was quite hard. We moved him closer, we thought it would make him happy. Everybody was trying to do the right thing.
I had another experience where I cared for a friend with a brain tumour and through that experience my friend had a brain tumour. He ended up with not dissimilar affects to his brain and behaviours as a result. Through both these difficult periods I discovered I was an empathic person. I’m not sure if the empathy was always there or whether it was a condition of age one becomes more mellow. I have also gleamed an understanding of the affect it has on the people caring for dementia patients. That’s why I now volunteer with Alzheimers Northland.
I am also aware of the affect it has on the people caring for dementia patients. That’s why I volunteer. I want to be able to help by giving them the chance to have a few hours respite, either to get things done, to do nothing or to meet with friends. I sold my business about 4 years ago and effectively retired. I have some gentlemen that I volunteer with. I take them out for a cup of coffee, sometimes we have the same discussions on many occasions on the same topic and sometimes we don’t. It gives them a chance to get out. Men particularly get very lonely, they become isolated after they retire because their social life has revolved around work. Some people are uncomfortable watching their friends and acquaintances going through a condition like dementia. They don’t know how to behave so they back away. I found through my experiences that I was quite competent at being there for someone that was having issues, it really didn’t worry me if we went into a restaurant and he stuffed three cream buns in his mouth and got cream everywhere. I was quite happy to discover that about myself. I see it as a very selfish thing.
Pip and Maria in the Alzheimers Northland office have helped me with hints and tips and I have been to their education sessions but mostly I find that being empathic and standing in the persons shoes is the biggest part of it. That’s what we should all do for all sorts of situations in life. My main tip for coping with situations that could be difficult is using humour. My observation is that people with dementia find a place that is not disturbing to them, their happy place if you like, as long as you are not challenging them to remember things, or challenging them in other ways they reach a place of acceptance.
It’s a great privilege to be able to volunteer. I feel selfish because I get more out of it than anybody else. I get to feel good about myself, that sounds egotistical but it feels good to make a difference.