By Kara Jacobsen
When family caregivers need a break, Alzheimer’s San Diego relies on Companion Volunteers like Joanne Bryant.
Joanne graduated last year from San Diego State University and is currently working on her Master’s in Social Work. She initially heard about the ALZ Companions respite program through SDSU’s Psychology department. She knew it would be the perfect personal growth and community service opportunity.
Joanne has been personally impacted by Alzheimer’s disease in her own family, so she was excited to be able to give back in this way. Over the span of two years, Joanne spent time with two different people living with Alzheimer’s. Keep reading to find out she learned to communicate even beyond words as a Companion Volunteer.
Q: Why do you volunteer?
A: I love volunteering because I know I am making a positive impact. It reminds me of what I feel like my calling in life is: to help others and have a career in social work.
Q: What was your favorite part about volunteering?
A: My favorite part about volunteering was building special bonds with my Companions and seeing smiles on their faces. It ultimately made me happy seeing how simple acts brought them so much joy.
Q: What was a memorable moment/highlight that you shared with the person you were matched with?
A: One of the people I served as a Companion for was unfortunately in the more severe stages of the disease, so often we could not have much of a conversation. However, I found special ways that we could connect and communicate without necessarily having to talk. We both bonded over our love for dancing and music. We would often turn on oldies music and dance together. Whenever we made eye contact, I could tell through her body language she was having a good time. She danced right on the beat of the music and even remembered some song lyrics! It was amazing seeing the power of music, especially realizing how it affects people living with Alzheimer’s. Although she could not communicate or remember most details from her life, she sure enjoyed dancing!
Q: How has your volunteer experience impacted your life?
A: So many ways! I was able to truly appreciate life more, especially all the little moments that we often take for granted. I was also able to understand what true joy and fulfillment feels like from helping other people.
Q: What challenges have you encountered volunteering?
A: I have had wonderful experiences with volunteering, but there have been challenges. One of my most difficult was when one of my Companions would weep due to sadness, depression, and hopelessness. She would often just want to go in her room, lay on her bed, and cry. I knew that this was not good for her to just mope around, but it was really difficult to try and break her out of her funk. I learned validation therapy during the training with Alzheimer’s San Diego, which I tried to incorporate during my visits with my companion. I would try to use the 3 R’s (join their Reality, Reassure, and Redirect) to avoid fixation and provide immediate relief. I tried my best to show empathy and then redirect her to focus on an enjoyable activity such as listening to music or watching a movie. Another especially challenging situation I had was trying to engage and communicate with my other companion who could barely communicate. However, I found trying different activities like painting her nails and braiding her hair, and of course, dancing, were fun alternatives to talking that made the most of our time together.
Q: Would you recommend volunteering at Alzheimer’s San Diego to a friend? Why?
A: Definitely! It is such a great organization. The staff is so friendly and caring. They provide many great resources for families in need during an incredibly difficult time. If you volunteer for Alzheimer’s San Diego you will receive much joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment in your life. You will not regret it!
To learn more about becoming a Companion Volunteer, contact Adrianna McCollum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 858.966.3296.