My name is Wendy Rankin and I have worked for Alzheimer Scotland for 16 years in a variety of frontline positions. I currently work across two roles - I am a Development Officer for the Scottish Dementia Working Group (SDWG), and I also work as an Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Advisor.
Like all of my colleagues in Alzheimer Scotland, I am passionate about making a difference to the lives of people with dementia, their families and carers. It genuinely is a privilege to get to know and support people.
About my role
As a Dementia Advisor no two days are the same. In a pre Covid world a typical day would include anything from running a drop in dementia cafe and holding carer education groups, to supporting people who had just received their diagnosis or advising someone who was worried about their memory. A big part of my job is about bringing people together, introducing them and allowing them to have that space and opportunity for invaluable peer support. Another big part of my job is simply listening. We are currently delivering our support digitally but pre Covid, most of my work was done in person, lots of home visits, lots of networking, linking up with Post Diagnostic Support teams and local carers centres. There's no question that face to face connection is incredibly powerful, but I have also seen so many people we support embrace and value coming together in our digital groups.
My experience of supporting people through the pandemic
No one could have foreseen or predicted the sudden changes we all faced in March 2020. We immediately reviewed all the people we support and tried our very best to figure out all the ways we could continue to support them within the parameters of the national restrictions. A back to basics approach was taken with good old fashioned telephone calls and really just trying to reassure people. This was extremely difficult - suddenly people's routines, local connections and networks just disappeared. At home support ceased for family carers who had their husband or wife living with them. It was a very emotional time, and the guidelines and restrictions were changing on what felt like a daily basis. We started to look at the digital side and how we could bring people together - how we could see each other, even if it was just through a screen. After weeks of phone calls, it was amazing to see the difference in people once we were able to read each others facial expressions and body language. It really was powerful.
We held lots of one to one sessions and tutorials on how to use the various platforms. We held an audit on who did or didn't have equipment, and also who actually wanted to get connected digitally. It was all very, very different. I still remember the first time I connected with a carer digitally, it was around April last year. We worked together to get set up, and when she clicked the link and we saw each other, there was just that joy! We then started a digital drop in cafe that ran twice a week, every week.
The pandemic has been so very hard on the people we support and it's been really difficult to see people decline so quickly. Routines stopped, and where someone would usually go out to a club or to day care, suddenly there was simply nothing for them to do and no stimulation. People were scared watching the news and would become reclusive and not want to go out. Carers were under extra stress which would impact on their mental and physical health. Initially the restrictions made people feel safe but the longer it went on, and with no sign of an end, everything escalated such as stress levels and emotions. People were getting a diagnosis much later than they should have, and therefore not receiving the support as quickly as they should have. It was really hard to have solutions which would really help people, yet not be free to apply them.
Despite all the hardships that Covid has brought, I love my job, and I get so much out of working with and supporting people with dementia and their families. For me, it's an honour to get to know them, and it's rewarding knowing that they choose to share their lived experiences with me.
Thank you to Wendy, and indeed all our Dementia Advisors, who couldn't provide the support that they give without fundraised income.