I’d like to work in dementia care and I love stories and poems.  So to gain skills and experience, I am volunteering on a reading project called Reading Friends.  I’m enjoying it so much that I’d like to do it as my job. 

I’ve been volunteering as a Reading Friend since February.  Reading Friends is a UK-wide project run by The Reading Agency  and coordinated in Scotland in partnership with Scottish Book Trust, Stirling Libraries and Artlink Edinburgh and The Lothians.

My aim as a Reading Friend is to engage elderly hospital patients mentally and socially by reading aloud and chatting to them.  We chat about the reading material, or about anything that it prompts by way of conversation.  Some of the patients have dementia; some don’t.

I enjoy taking wonderful stories and poems into the patients and sharing responses with them.  It makes me feel a bit like Santa, with a bag full of books, and, even better, time to chat about them!

My volunteering also broadens my reading horizons.  For example, I’ve recently come across an anthology of Scottish football poems, which I’m looking forward to sharing with any football fans.

As I learned when I did a course called ‘Dementia and the Arts’, the more someone with dementia participates in a creative arts activity, the more they will benefit.  So I try to make the sessions as participatory as I can.

One very easy way to do this is to chat with the patients about the reading material or pictures.  Other activities work well too such as singing, and inviting the patients to repeat back fragments of a poem to me as an echo.

I’d also like to provide the patients with things to feel and smell, that will reinforce whatever I’m reading them.  For example, some sandpaper for a poem about the beach; or some fresh lavender for a story set in a garden.

I have about 10 fellow volunteers whom I’m able to share tips with, which I very much benefit from.  I also like feeling one of a number of volunteers all doing the same thing.

I volunteer with one other volunteer.  At first, we co-led group sessions together.  These let the patients meet and talk to each other, and share poems, pictures and songs.  The group sessions also let the patients tell each other stories from their own experience.

Recently, we have been working one-to-one with patients, which lets us reach bed-bound patients.  It also gives the patients the chance to hear better and say more than they might in a group setting.

One of my favourite aspects of these individual sessions is sharing short stories.  Each patient I’ve done this with has become immersed in the story, listening to find out what happens next.  This takes the patient out of themselves, calms them and lifts their mood.  I’ve realised with delight that sharing a short story with a patient has this effect on me too!