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Helping at hospice shop gives volunteer with dementia “sense of purpose”

Author: Elizabeth Palfreman
17 May 2017
  • L-R: Debbie's son Ellis, Debbie and shop manager Floss

Debbie began volunteering at St Helena Hospice shortly after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and she has found the experience hugely beneficial. To mark Dementia Awareness Week, this is her story.

Debbie has been volunteering at the St Helena Hospice Books and Coffee shop in Colchester for two years, having been diagnosed shortly before with early onset Alzheimer’s. While her Alzheimer’s has involved some close work with staff at the hospice to monitor and manage her symptoms within her voluntary role, the team at Books & Coffee  have adapted tasks to provide clear and functional routines for her long-term memory.

Volunteering means that Debbie is able to use her skills, extend her interests and bring her individual experiences to the role, while enjoying the social interaction of a working team and a retail environment.

Debbie has become a “shop mother” taking charge of the kitchen, housekeeping duties, re-stocking items and most importantly communicating with customers. Books & Coffee is a community hub where someone is always on hand to have a chat and Debbie is very popular and a loved member of the team.

Volunteering gives Debbie’s week a structure and her valuable time a purpose, while strengthening her independence and providing a social outlet. She explained:

“Knowing I had Alzheimer’s, I wanted to get a little job and I asked if I could work here - it’s just made my life again.”

“It’s a good thing for me. It means I get to see my friends, see the people that I work with here. It gives me purpose. It really upsets me when I can’t come in.”

Shop manager Floss works closely with Debbie and her family to ensure that despite her condition she is able to find satisfaction in her role and feels as valued as any other member of the team.

The capacity of her role has already changed considerably over the last two years, but working with Debbie and her family has allowed an honest and transparent friendship with the shop manager so that future needs can anticipated.

Floss said:

‘We worked with Debbie’s son and Essex County Council to raise awareness of dementia and the power of volunteering by creating a video where Debbie was able to talk openly and honestly about her experiences and how volunteering has impacted her life.”

Debbie’s son Ellis feels volunteering makes her more confident. He said:

“Having something to do during the week keeps her mind active which is really important.”

“Knowing my mum is here gives me peace of mind because she’s happy while she’s here, it keeps her week structured. I feel like I have back-up, a team. If she has any issues while she’s here they can talk to me, we can work together and make sure she is alright.”

For more about Debbie’s story watch St Helena Hospice’s short film ‘Sense of Purpose’.

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