This summer I travelled to San Diego, California to volunteer for Alzheimer’s San Diego, an organisation that helps care partners and people living with dementia to transition through the stages of dementia-related diseases much more easily. I decided to volunteer there because their volunteering program gave me an ability to learn more about dementia-like conditions and get to know about social care as well as the neuroscientific basis of the disease. The disease always fascinated me as one of my family members has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s for a couple of years, and I always wanted to understand it better and to evaluate if I would want to study it in the future. San Diego County has a high population of people living with dementia and the support for care partners and people living with dementia they have there is excellent. Therefore, volunteering for this organisation has been a remarkable and life-changing experience, and I loved every single minute of it.
Before I left for my summer volunteering, I was very worried about going somewhere so far away from my family for such a long time. It was challenging at first, considering the change in time zones, climate and pretty much everything. It took me a while to figure out the public transportation and explore the area. Over the weeks, I have become more confident in navigating around, getting to work and realised that my worries were unnecessary. Especially considering how beneficial this experience has been for my professional as well as personal development, the positive aspects significantly outweigh negative ones.
My role within the organisation was an Alzheimer’s Companion, who is a person that provides in-home companionship and socialisation for people living with dementia, while their care partners take some time off. I assisted with things like doing puzzles, colouring, drawing, gardening, walking around the neighbourhood, reading books or just watching some TV together with the person living with dementia. I regularly attended couple of families and eventually I became very close with them. Even though my role could be emotionally draining and exhausting at times, it was very rewarding overall. I was happy to offer my help to care partners and become a friend to people living with dementia. Seeing their smiles and how thankful they were, gave me the reassurance that I was doing the right thing.
Having gone through my volunteering experience, I can say that it has impacted me as a person. It has changed my insight into different things, has made me a much more reliable and organised person. I have gained a lot of valuable knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease as well as other dementia-like diseases and have experienced what it is like to be a social carer. Currently, I still have many things to analyse about how I have changed, but I can’t stress enough how thankful I am for having an ability to participate in this program during the summer.