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An Orkney Insight: Befriending a Lady in the Early Stages of Dementia

Mrs Fiona Brown, widow, 80 years young and suffers from dementia. She was referred to the befriending service by her nephew, John Brown.

Wednesday, 23 March

I met up with my project worker, Lindsay at 6.20pm who introduced me to Mrs Brown. She didn't seem to remember that Lindsay had been to see her previously and during the whole time I was there, she kept telling me that she didn't know me, kept asking my name and where I lived. I don't think she really understood why I was there, but hopefully, after a few visits, it might all begin to fit into place. While we were there, Mrs Brown's nephew, John arrived. We discussed with both of them what manner of things might be of interest of benefit to Mrs Brown.

  • She told me that she used to bake but not any longer, however I suggested she might be able to give me some new recipes (NB note to self – keep this in mind).
  • She said that she sometimes read books and magazines and that she also read a daily newspaper. She is very proud of the fact that she can read the smallprint without glasses! Although she said she read books, a visit to the library wasn't thought to be a good idea, but I might perhaps bring in a magazine once in a while.
  • Lindsay pointed out that Mrs Brown had a large record collection. I didn't look through it, but this is something I can do on another visit. I told her that I liked Scottish country dancing and I'm wondering if it might be possible to take her on a short visit to the Reel and Strathspey or similar.
  • I suggested she might like to go to the Garden Centre sometime, though Lindsay reminded me that it wouldn't be possible to do this in the timeslot allocated to our match. I suggested that we could maybe work around this somehow.
  • I think she might like a run in a car into the countryside on a bonnie evening – perhaps I could kill two birds with one stone by visiting somewhere with a garden display.
  • Another idea for the future once I get to know her better: she has a lovely big window in her sitting room and I wonder whether it might be an idea to get a bird table made for her garden. From past experience, older folk do seem to like seeing birds feeding at a table.

After Lindsay left, I asked John whether he thought she might like a visit to the supermarket during a quiet spell, not necessarily to buy anything, but just to push the trolley around and see what's available. It might also be nice to see other people going about their business, if nothing else. John seemed to think this would be a good idea and before he left he said he would organise a kitty for her shopping trips.

John stayed for a little while but after a bit seemed happy to leave us on our own to chat. Before leaving, we exchanged phone numbers (at John's suggestion). I confirmed with him whether his aunt would be OK to lock up etc after I'd gone.

Once we were on our own, we looked at one of her photo albums. She seemed to be very unsure of the people and events in the photos, but was able to pick out herself! I found it strange that she couldn't identify John though. I waited until she had finished her cup of tea and piece of toast which the Home Help had prepared for her earlier. She also took 2 paracetamol for her backache.

Before I left, I gave Mrs Brown a note with my name and the time for my next visit and then saw myself out. I've decided that it would be useful to keep a logbook of each visit – at least in the early stages. Hopefully, Mrs Brown will be happy to see me again (if she remembers me). I'm certainly looking forward to the challenge and will hopefully be able to help a little way to ease her loneliness.

Wednesday, 20 March

I visited Mrs Brown this evening at 6.50pm – the home help was just driving off as I arrived, so there was no opportunity to speak to her.

As I expected, Mrs Brown did not recognise me and seemed unaware of my visit last week. However, she did seem OK about accepting me into her home (although part of me is thinking that it is quite worrying an apparent stranger is able to walk into her house. I mentioned that I had seen the home help leave, but she said she didn't have a home help!).

I asked a bit about her day. She said she'd been into Stromness with some friends and wasn't long back (oddly enough, on my first/previous visit, she said she'd been into Stromness that day too, so I'm not 100% sure if she's been or not today). Mostly her conversation was about losing her husband and how she wished she had gone before him. The impression she gives is that she's lost him recently, whereas in fact I know it was some years ago. She repeated her husband's passing quite a few times, which is really sad.

In between times, I asked her about her record collection and was chatted about her wide range of music. I don't think she really has much interest in them anymore, to be honest.

As I was getting ready to leave, she went to her sweetie box and gave me a caramel – I didn't have the heart to say that I needed to be careful about caramels so I ate it carefully, and what's more, I enjoyed it!

I left at 8pm which was just over the hour. The evening was pretty hard going, but it is only the second visit. I suggested that we could go for a short run in the car next week if the weather was OK.

Before leaving, I wrote my name down again and the date for my next visit. Whether she keeps the piece of paper to remind her, I'm not sure. When I mulled the evening over after I'd got home, I compared her with my mother-in-law. She didn't have memory problems at all, was in fact extremely sharp, but had she lost her speech after a stroke years ago. What we found with her is that it was a great help for her to have an 'engagement calendar'. I've passed this tip onto others and it's amazing how many folk have made use of it. The doctor on his monthly visits would write down his next visit, as would the health visitor, chiropodist, church elder etc. That way, folk knew what was happening.

I have a spare calendar at work which I will take next week and then I can mark up the next visit. I'm not sure how successes in befriending can be measured, all I can do is try.

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