We need new ways to include the elderly in our daily lives.

   

Feeling like a Valuable Person: "A Thousand Deeds" Cares For People with Dementia

In the debates about our aging society, dementia is often a focal point. But while it's openly discussed in public, in private the issue is burdened with fear and taboo. The relatives of those with dementia often wait too long to seek help and support. As a consequence the family members are often overwhelmed, while the person affected has withdrawn into isolation.

"We recognized that dementia is an enormous problem that cannot be solved with professional care operations alone", said Dorothea Petrich of Tausand Taten ("Thousand Deeds"), a volunteer organisation based in Jena. She believes that dementia requires a response from the whole society. That's why Petrich, a social worker, has launched a project that pair volunteers with an "adopted" dementia patient. The project fits perfectly with the organisation's motto: "donate time and gain joy". The goal of Tausand Taten is to initiate and expand civic engagement in Jena and the surrounding area. With the help of countless volunteers, the club implements social projects for the elderly, children and youth, as well as in the areas of education and development.

On the basis of these other activities the club stared receiving an increasing number of inquiries about dementia. This was the motivation for the new programme. In contrast to the existing programme for visiting elderly people living alone, however, dementia is a new area for the organisation. This means volunteers had to be specially prepared and trained. Dorothea Petrich worked together with experts in the field to develop a 3-day training session that educates volunteers about the symptoms and nature of dementia and its related behavioural changes. Volunteers are also equipped with information about how to best interact with those suffering from the disease. Once trained, the volunteers visit people with dementia in their homes and spend several hours caring for them. This service provides relief for the caregiving family members, helps to prevent social isolation by establishing new interpersonal relationships, and assists in maintenance of a daily schedule.

Volunteers are urgently needed. "For relatives, caring for a person with dementia at home is a massive challenge and a burden", says Dorothea Petrich. "We want to offer support by creating an opportunity for the family member to have a few hours a week for themselves, as often one person must provide care alone. During this time she should know that the dementia patient is in good hands."

The dementia patients also experience a clear improvement in their quality of life. For example, the relationship with the volunteer often reawakens abilities that have lain dormant for many years. Suddenly, the elderly person begins to cook or knit again; often he or she is still able to perform the individual steps of a complex task and, supported by the volunteer, can again manage these activities. "Dementia in particular demands a high degree of humanity and sympathy", Petrich notes. "When many abilities are lost, what remains is emotion, and that can be shared from person to person." The volunteer-patient relationship also leads to a renewed feeling of personal value. At the same time, the relationship benefits not only the relatives and dementia patients, but also the volunteers. The short film about the project (in German, above) reveals that real friendships develop between volunteers and elderly.

The Software AG Foundation funds projects that aim to discover and develop new ways of helping the elderly and of dealing with social challenges like dementia. "What excited me about this project from the beginning was not only that it provides relief to the relatives of persons with dementia and provides an enormous increase in life quality for the patients, but also that the volunteers themselves find so much joy in their work", stressed Jana Weische, who managed the project from the side of the Software AG Foundation. Projects like these create important momentum for civil engagement and generate new ideas for how to deal with the widespread disease of dementia.