Until I started high school, my very best friend in the world was my grandmother Jean. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it was during an era when there wasn’t much of a focus on how people could live well with dementia. iPod music programs and friendly visitor programs just didn't exist.
As an adult, looking back, I wondered if there was something I could have done differently if I had had the opportunity. it was something that broke my heart whenever I thought about it. So, when I was laid off from my high-tech job in the fall of 2013, almost 35 years later, I started to wonder if I might be able to help others who were living with dementia have a better experience than she did.
That question about how I might be of service led me in three directions: the first thing I did was to volunteer to help with the Memory Boosters Social Club, the second was to start a company that is dedicated to helping people with cognitive impairments maintain independence and dignity for as long as possible, and the third was to volunteer with Alzheimer Society Waterloo Wellington.
I volunteer for the Alzheimer Society in a few ways: I have volunteered at the past two Walk for Memories events, but I also help to run the Memory Boosters Social Club, which is not technically an Alzheimer Society group, but it is very closely affiliated with the Alzheimer Society, and it was started by a group of friends who had met during an education program run by the Alzheimer Society. I have helped to run that group for the past two years, and during that time, I have become very close friends with Elaine, who is an Alzheimer Society volunteer who also helps with the group. My volunteer role revolves around helping to plan, set up, and facilitate the group meetings, which take place on the second and fourth Tuesday afternoon of each month. To be honest, it really is like a party every few weeks, where we sing, eat, laugh, make art, and share stories. I tell you, these people know how to have fun!
”I can honestly say that volunteering is one of the very best thing I have ever chosen to do. It is absolutely life changing in the best possible way. When you volunteer with big-hearted people, and you get to help make people’s lives a little better and brighter, everything else you do pales in comparison.”
In fact, I am so committed to volunteering after having worked with the Alzheimer Society and the Memory Boosters group for the past two years, that I am making it a requirement of all of my employees that they too will volunteer as part of their responsibilities.
After spending two years of building my life and schedule around volunteering, I would just like to encourage people to volunteer. You really do see that your life matters when you find a way to help someone else. If you aren’t quite sure where to volunteer, here is a little something that might help you decide what cause is right for you: when you think about something that brings a tear to your eye every time you think about it, that is the thing you should be going toward. Trust me, if you had a loved one who lived with dementia, and it is breaking your heart, the very best thing you can do is to find a way to help someone who is living with it.
p.s. Volunteering is also really fun! Yes, it's even more fun than Pokemon Go.
If you are interested in seeing what kind of shenanigans we get up to at the Memory Boosters Social Club, you should check us out on Facebook. Life can be hard, but with a little bit of support from friends in our communities, it can still be good.