Asume, Environment - Volunteering in Dementia

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The setting of the volunteering activity did affect the experience and had an impact on those volunteering and those living with dementia. One to one volunteering activity was much more likely to be conducted in a home-setting with those living independently. Volunteers often reported very positive outcomes in relation to home settings, where they generally had more freedom to shape the activities and interactions with those they visited. They often described it as rewarding. Volunteers liked a one to one home-setting because it gave them freedom of choice over their support for those with dementia, which they felt was more constrained in a care home setting. Some volunteers noted that the professional staff were a key element in encouraging volunteering activities or dissuading them:

A caveat to the positivity around home-settings was the reticence and protectiveness of respondents to their home setting. Those that we spoke to that were accessed through housing associations (i.e. not connected to a volunteer organisation) were much more likely to report limited involvement with volunteers. When asked if they would like involvement of volunteers there was hesitation in regards to people coming into their home setting. There was a link between volunteers and institutional interference. Therefore the home-setting of volunteer activity was both an opportunity but also a key risk that had to be managed sensitively. There was clearly scope for more links to those living at home, but this would have to done sympathetically without challenging independence.

Volunteers were less likely to talk about care home settings as ‘home’. There were certain perceptions that were linked to care homes in particular, and some organisations in the survey had pointed out this affected recruitment in this area,

Volunteers cross over the spheres between public and private settings. They often used arrows to show how their networking crosses over certain boundaries. In conjunction with writing and drawing their networks, they would often give a running commentary on how they bridge the divides through their different activities.

Here we are in a totally different setting, they’re not in their own home, and I thought, wow. I mean, it was a wonderful care home, absolutely wonderful, and they looked very happy, but it’s a difference (Female volunteer, Cumbria).

Well it would be and certainly one of the ladies whom I take out to lunch, for about a year I used to go on a Monday to her house. She now lives in a home. I’d take my own lunch because she didn’t eat her lunch. The carers came in and made her a disgusting looking ham sandwich – a horrible looking thing – and so in order to get her to eat at least on a Monday I’d pop in and we’d have lunch together; I’d eat mine and she’d eat hers, so that would be a household thing (Female volunteer, Cumbria).

Q: In your experience, what are the key challenges in recruiting people to volunteer in dementia-related activities? A: Retention, and with older volunteers it’s the stereotype ‘bad’ care home and fear of dementia (Organisational survey)