The Covid-19 pandemic has been a time of confusion and conflict across the world. While some of us tried every recipe in the book and reconnected with ourselves and everyone virtually, there were many people left isolated.
A dementia diagnosis can be isolating in itself. Social distancing rules meant social isolation for many people impacted by dementia, resulting in loneliness, diminished social opportunities, and disruption in the routine that contributes to the acceleration of symptoms.
Recognizing this, The Dementia Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County launched our Make a Connection program in the fall of 2020. This free program matches participants with a trained volunteer for regular, personalized visits that help them feel engaged and more connected. This program has also proven a boon for caregivers, providing them with a much-needed break. Friendly visits have taken place by phone, online or even safely in-person, when conditions have permitted. Together, the volunteers and the person living with dementia listen to music, play games, and go on walks, watch a movie and talk… the list of ways to connect is unlimited.
“The volunteer paired with my mother-in-law has been a true gift to my mother-in-law and our family! I cannot say enough about how truly grateful we are to be part of this program,” says Janet Saunders, whose family benefits from this program.
To date, the Make a Connection program has served more than 232 people in Ottawa and Renfrew County. Launched with the support and funded by a grant of the United Way Eastern Ontario and the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund, The Dementia Society has seen clients thrive as a result of these connections; we continue to raise and invest funds so that the program can continue.
With additional support from the Ottawa Community Foundation, we are now able to visit people safely in their homes, when virtual visits don’t work for them. The Society has evolved this program based on safety measures and the needs of our program participants. An electronic tablet-lending and technical-assistance initiative was added to the program in 2021 to remove technical barriers to making a connection. Within the first year, The Society lent 30 internet-enabled tablets (i.e. iPad or Samsung device), 25 Amazon Echo Shows, a smart display and voice command device and provided tech training to around 30 people in Ottawa and Renfrew County.
Dave is a person living with Dementia who had requested a tablet through the Make a Connection program. Sharing his experience, he says, “I use the tablet almost all day. It has really helped me in my life and also with my brain function. I was quite impressed with the mentor, it’s been great to learn to play all the games on the tablet, they’ve really helped me in times of boredom and loneliness.”
Buzz is another recipient of the program who loaned an Amazon Echo Show. He is the primary caregiver to her mom and says the tablet has helped him connect and check in with his mom through the “Drop-In” video function on the Echo. “The Amazon Echo’s been a really handy thing to have. In the past, my mother has called quite often because her TV isn’t working. Since she’s had the Echo, it’s been great because I can see the tv and then can show her on my remote which buttons to press to get her back to her normal viewing channels.”
The Dementia Society’s amazing volunteers are the backbone of this program. 206 volunteers joined the Make a Connection program since launch and helped to make a difference in the lives of those impacted by dementia. Thanks to a diverse pool of volunteers, the program is offered in over a dozen languages—namely English, French, Mandarin, Arabic, Vietnamese, Hebrew, Russian, Spanish, Hungarian, Kurdish, German, Persian, and Dutch.
The best part? You or anyone of any age group can become a Make a Connection volunteer. This volunteering opportunity can also open doors for you to connect with others who share your values and interest in making a difference in the lives of people living with dementia. —how amazing it is to share stories and experiences while making an impact. All you have to do is apply and dedicate a few hours a week to laugh, talk or do whatever you like as you brighten the day of someone affected by dementia, and yours!