Jane had been living with dementia for the last three years–facing the challenges before her. So, when Jane’s befriender, Lisa, arrived on Saturday morning for a visit, Jane was delighted to see her. Lisa, a volunteer who helps persons with dementia conduct various activities, befriended Jane through a local befriending service.
Prior to her dementia diagnosis, Jane was a vibrant person who was out and about every Saturday morning. She went to the local farmer’s market to buy fruits and vegetables. She always got jams and honey sticks for her grandchildren. And, thanks to Lisa, Jane’s befriender, Jane remained the same vibrant person.
‘Befriender’ is a service provided by some dementia-friendly communities to ensure that persons with dementia continue to stay engaged in community living. Some persons living with dementia need more support when they are outside their homes. People with dementia experience challenges while finding spots to rest, finding water or food, looking for seating at a venue, noticing exit doors or locating toilets. A befriender helps a person living with dementia by guiding them, assisting them in their outings.
Persons with dementia request befriender services for a variety of activities — some on an ongoing basis (e.g., Jane’s visit to the Saturday market; occasional visits to a grandchild’s performance). Often befrienders help the person with dementia conduct outdoor chores, (e.g., visiting the post office, visiting healthcare services, a dentist or optician). Some persons with dementia also request befrienders to be present at their activity classes such as crafts or water yoga.
A befriender’s presence builds confidence in the person living with dementia. A befriender helps persons with dementia to navigate their community, reminds them if they forget important items, and offers emotional support to participate in a range of activities. Befrienders make sure that persons with dementia do not put themselves in danger (e.g., not wearing seatbelts, turning the stove off before leaving the house).
Befriender services are important not only for people with dementia who live by themselves but also for people with dementia who live with their caregivers. Befriender services provide caregivers with moments of rest from their caregiving duties while the person with dementia is engaged in the activities with Befriender’s help. This helps prevent caregiver burnout by sharing caregiving burden.
Although there is no formal qualification needed to be a befriender, some personality traits are essential. Many times befrienders are individuals who have provided care to their family member with dementia. But this is not a requirement. With a compassionate heart, a responsible approach, and a patient manner anyone can be a befriender. Dementia-friendly communities that run befriender initiatives train volunteers with dementia awareness programs.
Young adults volunteer as befrienders as they find the experience rewarding. A dementia-friendly community maintains a registry or database of befrienders that are available for help.
Currently, some dementia-friendly communities offer ‘befriender’ services while many are still planning on offering the service. At AlzCare Labs, we are supporters of befriending services and want to encourage communities to develop befriending initiatives. We are building a digital platform to connect befrienders and persons with dementia. To join us in creating a dementia-friendly community, emails us at firstname.lastname@example.org