You may well have seen the phrase Dementia Companion or Dementia Doula recently on social media, in your Google searches, on our website at https://dementiadoulas.uk/ or even in an advertisement. But what do they do?
If you simply look up ‘Companion’ on Google it says:
- 1. A person or animal with whom one spends a lot of time or with whom one travels. Similar: associate, partner, escort, consort, colleague, workmate, coworker, compatriot, confederate, ally, friend, intimate confidant, confidant, comrade, buddy, pal, chum, crony, sidekick, mate.
- 2. Each of a pair of things intended to complement or match each other. Similar: complement, counterpart, fellow, mate, twin, other half, match.
Well, that just about sums it up!
Imagine having a Nanny for your Granny. Nannies help parents go to work and lead their best lives. They don’t try to take the place of the parents but work alongside and create an equally safe, caring and nurturing environment for the children. This is what Dementia Doulas do, but for the older generation rather than the younger one.
A Dementia Companion is an experienced carer who takes the place of a family member to support someone with dementia for anything from 2 hours a week to full time. He or she gets to know the client so well that the client trusts and relies them for emotional support as well as practical assistance. Another important role is to provide advice and understanding to the friends and family of the client.
So what does a Dementia Doula (companion) actually do?
The best way to explain is to give you some examples:
- Sue visits Eddie in Cheltenham one day a week for 5 hours. Eddie is a fit and well 72 year old who lives with his wife. They have 3 grown up children who live a few hours away in different directions and have careers/ children of their own. Eddie enjoyed walking football, singing in a choir and camping before the Corona Virus pandemic. Eddie’s Frontal Lobe Dementia causes him anxiety, confusion and difficulty in finding the right words. Jane (Eddie’s wife) has found lockdown very difficult with the usual groups and activities not being on. Not only has Eddie’s dementia got a lot worse due to the lack of stimulation from interacting with the outside World and others….but having no break from each other 24 hours a day is causing a strain for both of them. So Sue takes Eddie for a walk to the local park or river in the morning. This means Jane can totally focus on her piano practice. Sue makes lunch for all three of them, they sit down to eat together and talk about anything and everything. After lunch Jane goes for a walk while Eddie and Sue engage with an Alzheimer’s Society “Singing for the Brain” Zoom group.
- Debbie has been visiting Mike for 9 months in Cirencester since he came home from hospital after a stroke. Mike has lost his wife and his daughter, so has no family around. When Mike was first released, Debbie (along with a team of carers) supported him 24 hours a day. Over the months he has got stronger as the stroke wasn’t one sided but affected his sight and memory. The amount of help Mike needs has gone down so Debbie now only visits him twice a day. However, Debbie always takes him to his hospital and doctors appointments as well as shopping for him. Mike has had some health scares lately and has been very grateful to have Debbie by his side to help him communicate as well as hold his hand.
- Beverley cares for John most days and some nights. John is in his 80s with Vascular Dementia. John lives with his wife Annie in rural Gloucestershire, but she is also in her 80s with arthritis and other health conditions of her own. There are other members of the family locally who are very involved but they have huge commitments with work and families of their own. When Beverley started with the family a year ago it was just to take John out for a drive and trip to the pub/cafe. John has, sadly, deteriorated over the last few months and hallucinates, wanders and is much more frail. Beverley now helps John dress, eat, shower and keeps him safe. Beverley has been able to help the family choose suitable adaptations to the house and provides huge amounts of knowledge and emotional support to the whole family.
- Jessie cared for Graham in Worcester for 18 months. Graham was divorced and lived alone in sheltered housing, he was young (69) fit but very confused and wandering. Before the lockdowns Jessie and he would spend weekdays together…..going shopping, to the cinema, for walks, to the gym and horse racing (as it had been a passion of Graham’s). Jessie became such an integral part of the family that she was invited to be Graham’s companion on a 2 week holiday to Italy with 3 generations of his family. Jessie was there to give and share good times Graham….to help him live a full and happy life with Dementia. She was also there for the bad times and accompanied him to hospital when he had a chest infection. When the time came for Graham to go into a Home, Jessie helped the family ask the right questions, choose the Care Home and settle him in.
(All names have been changed)