In the six years since Julie Cameron began answering calls to the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s First Link Dementia Helpline, the number of calls to the line has risen dramatically along with the immediate need for volunteers to answer them, but the type of calls has remained the same.
Most of the calls are from caregivers of people living with dementia who need to know who to call and where to turn. The rest?
“They’re the people who haven’t reached out at all until it’s a crisis,” says Cameron, a Coordinator for the First Link® Dementia Helpline, now in need of volunteers to address the growing demand. “We walk them through scenarios and help them understand how they could respond to people living with dementia.”
A toll-free phone line, the First Link Dementia Helpline is for anyone who lives with dementia or is a care partner to someone who does. It’s also for people concerned about their memory, people who work with people living with dementia or any member of the public who would like to know more.
Since 2011, Jill Davidson has been one of those helpful voices on the other end of the line. Davidson, a former city planner, found meaning in providing direct support on the Helpline – and she encourages other prospective volunteers to do the same.
“I look in the newspaper and see all of these terrible things happening – then every week I talk with people who are managing very difficult situations, yet find a way to put aside their own frustrations and provide love and care,” Davidson says. “I feel very lucky to have this opportunity. Volunteer work is sometimes mundane, but this is very profound and it helps restore my faith in humanity.”
The First Link® Dementia Helpline has opportunities for anyone interested in using skills in effective communication and support strategies, connecting with people seeking information on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and supporting people who have received a diagnosis. A background in first response, social work, counselling, gerontology or health care is an asset, but not mandatory, as an extensive training program is provided.
“As quiet super-heroes, some caregivers struggle against enormous obstacles day after day, delivering the care their family members need,” Cameron says. “Caregivers, however, can’t and shouldn’t have to do this on their own. Being able to support both caregivers and people living with a diagnosis on the Helpline has been a humbling and incredibly rewarding experience for me.”
Volunteers contribute 3.5 hours a week on the lines, with a minimum commitment of one year or 150 hours at the Victoria Resource Centre, located in Saanich. To find out how to become a Dementia Helpline volunteer, call Caroline Herbert, Provincial Coordinator, First Link® Dementia Helpline at 778-746-2021 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To access the First Link Dementia Helpline, call 1-800-936-6033.
Did you know?
* An estimated 70,000 British Columbians live with dementia.
* In 2017-18 the First Link Dementia Helpline received 1,778 calls, up 20 per cent from the year before.
* In 2017-18, the Alzheimer Society of B.C. launched the South Asian Dementia Helpline (1-833-674-5003), where individuals and families within South Asian communities can receive language- and culturally-specific support.