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Keeping mentally active through Alzheimer Society programs

With only three volunteers for their telephone program, Alzheimer Society of Huron Perth is looking for more people to help
Celina listens to Lynda Barber, a volunteer with the Alzheimer Society of Huron Perth. The Alzheimer Society is in need of volunteers like Barber, whether they are able to visit in-person or even hop on a phone call for 15 minutes.

Although no longer able to keep up a conversation, Celina bobs her head and sings along when volunteer Lynda Barber takes out her guitar and strums old favourites.

Celina, 58, is a St. Marys resident. She developed Alzheimer’s a number of years back after a car accident but was misdiagnosed, according to her husband Gary.

Shannon Brown, the In-Home Recreation Coordinator at Alzheimer Society of Huron Perth, said that Celina’s responds positively to music. 

“I have never encountered a person that doesn’t respond to music,” Brown shared. “Even if they can’t form a sentence.” 

Gary said that he and his wife undertake a number of programs to keep mentally active. Those programs, like the Alzheimer Society’s Just For You, Volunteer Companion Program, rely upon volunteers – and they need volunteers now.

Paulina Balch is the volunteer coordinator at the Alzheimer Society of Huron Perth. She explained to StratfordToday that the Just For You program has two streams: an in-home recreation program and a tele-care program.

Both always need volunteers, the tele-care program more so. Currently, there are only three volunteers for the two counties the Huron Perth branch covers. 

The program matches volunteers with one of the Alzheimer Society’s clients, using their interests, location, and other information. Once paired, there is a flexible schedule. Volunteers are asked to call once a week for as little as 15 minutes. 

“As a volunteer, they have the unique opportunity to connect with clients over the phone,” Balch said. “They provide them with a listening ear, uplifting conversation. It helps our clients know that they're not alone. It helps combat feelings of loneliness and isolation that can really be accompanied with the condition and disease of Alzheimer's.”

The tele-care program started in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a transition to offer clients some connection when volunteers could not visit them in person.  

After restrictions eased, the Alzheimer Society opted to keep the program running, as it is a way for people to connect across a wide coverage area. 

Additionally, clients are overjoyed with speaking with volunteers, even if it's over the phone. 

“They're just so thrilled and they're so happy to hear from you,” Balch said. “You introduce yourself, you tell them who you are and they're more than happy to share.”

Prospective volunteers need to be over the age of 18. Balch reasons that the Alzheimer Society wants volunteers to have the emotional wherewithal to speak and interact with those suffering from the disease. 

Additionally, for the in-home recreation program volunteers need access to their own vehicles or transportation. 

Volunteers are imperative to the success of the Alzheimer Society, which has a long list of clients. Additionally, the number of Ontarians with dementia is expected to increase by 40 per cent in the next decade. 

For more information on the Alzheimer Society’s volunteer programs, or to sign up as a volunteer, visit their website