VITALZ (Volunteers in Touch) launched in August 2020 to increase community support during the pandemic. More than 84,000 people in San Diego County are living with dementia – and 1 out of 4 live alone. In this program, specially trained volunteers make regular phone calls to check in, provide 15-20 minutes of socialization, and give reminders about upcoming appointments and food deliveries.
VITALZ can also serve as a safety net. If the person living with dementia does not answer a scheduled call after a few tries, the volunteer will then call their emergency contacts so they can check in and make sure the person is safe.
Late last year, a woman called to inquire about enrolling her mother in VITALZ. Her mother, Gerta, was not only reluctant to join the program, but also only spoke German. The team reassured the daughter that they would do everything they could to not only find a German-speaking volunteer but they would work closely with the volunteer to coach her on how to make the visits successful.
After just a week, Alzheimer’s San Diego matched Gerta with Heidi – a German-speaking volunteer all the way in Poland! The first couple of calls didn’t go well, but Heidi persisted, talking with the VITALZ team and Gerta’s daughter to discuss ways she might be more effective in connecting with her. After just a few more tries, Gerta not only started enjoying the calls, but began considering Heidi a friend and said she looked forward to talking with her each week.
“She proposed we could start ‘dutzing’ one another, in other words I now call her by her first name,” Heidi shares. “She seemed high-spirited and recognized me right away, which was really touching. She invited me to visit her, if I am ever in California.”