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Making Meaningful Connections

Alzheimer's Society is seeking volunteers to connect with people living with dementia in Great Britain

Alzheimer's Society's new Side by Side service is urging people across the country to seek a different kind of connection this Valentine's Day, using its new matching service to support a person with dementia.

The UK's leading dementia charity is launching its innovative new Side by Side service in a bid to reconnect people with dementia with their communities and favourite pastimes. Launched in response to the loneliness and isolation so many people with dementia report experiencing, the service uses a new approach to volunteering. It has been so popular that the charity is urgently calling on volunteers to support the people with dementia currently waiting to be paired up.

From joining a local club, going to the football, or just going for a stroll in the park, this innovative service pairs people with dementia and volunteers with shared interests. Piloted since 2014, Side by Side, which is supported by People's Postcode Lottery, now has a waiting list of almost two thousand people with dementia.

The top activities people with dementia want to do with a volunteer include:

  • Visiting beaches, nature spots, museums, and art galleries
  • Spending time chatting with someone over a cup of tea
  • Shopping and attending appointments

Alzheimer's Society research shows people with dementia are more at risk of loneliness than the general population – with a third of people reporting to have lost friends since their diagnosis. Two-thirds of people with dementia live in the community, but many feel trapped in their own homes - with almost one in ten only leaving the house once a month.

Current Side by Side volunteers have reported that they have gained and shared skills, developed new friendships, and even enhanced their CVs. Side by Side is designed to be flexible so that anyone can sign up – a telephone service is also available so people with limited time can volunteer.

Alzheimer's Society received a £1.35 Million award from players of People's Postcode Lottery. This will help roll out the Side by Side service so that everyone in the UK with dementia can be supported to live the lives they want. On the night of the People's Postcode Lottery Charity Gala, an additional £150,000 was awarded to Alzheimer Scotland, making a total of £1.5 Million for Alzheimer's charities.

Irene Woodward, who has dementia and lives in Leicester, says that since meeting Side by Side volunteer Winnie Horton, her life has changed for the better. "I was at a low point in my life when I first met Winnie. My partner had died and then I was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Meeting Winnie was a breath of fresh air. We clicked from the start and have had some great days out roaming around charity shops and having cups of tea and cake. Without sounding pleased about my condition, I want to enjoy this stage of Alzheimer's as much as I can. My father had dementia, so I'm aware of what might be ahead of me, but my attitude is that life is precious and still worth living."

Kathryn Smith, Director of Operations at Alzheimer's Society, is a Side by Side volunteer. She said, "Valentine's Day is traditionally about seeking a romantic match – but this year, Alzheimer's Society wants everyone to ditch the dating apps and connect with someone with dementia instead. Loneliness is a real problem for people with dementia, yet we know that one of the most important things for those affected is to remain part of their community and continue to do the things they love – from going shopping to enjoying a local football match. Our Side by Side service, offering one to one support, is a vital step to making this a reality. By 2021, one million people will be living with the condition, so it's vital that we all unite to against dementia do what we can to make a meaningful difference, such as becoming a volunteer."

Fiona Phillips, broadcaster and ambassador for Alzheimer's Society and People's Postcode Lottery was recently paired up with Irene, who lives with dementia, because they share a love for football. Fiona said, "Sadly, I know from personal experience just how tough life can be. Both my parents had dementia and I just wish a service like Side by Side had been in place for my mum and dad. Just because someone has dementia doesn't mean they can't keep doing the things they enjoy - they may just need a little support. It was wonderful spending the day with Irene and sharing our passion for football by watching our rival teams - Leicester City and Chelsea - play at the King Power Stadium. We had so many laughs together and it was inspiring to witness first-hand what a difference Side by Side volunteers can make to people living with dementia."

Anyone interested in becoming a Side by Side volunteer, or who would like to access the service should visit Alzheimer's Society's website or call 0330 333 0804.

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Alzheimer's Society received £1.3 Million for their Side by Side service, while Alzheimer Scotland received a £200,000 award
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