Between May and December of 2015, Meagan McGill spent two hours of every week with her friend Reg, an 83 year old gentleman with Alzheimer’s disease.
She was volunteering with the Alzheimer Society of Waterloo-Wellington, acting as a weekly companion for Reg. Together, Reg and Meagan watched some of his favourite shows, listened to music, and enjoyed conversation. Meagan also got to know Reg’s wife and primary caretaker, Lorraine.
I’ve learned,” Meagan says, reflecting on her experiences, “that it’s incredibly important for both the person living with Alzheimer’s and their care taker to have a strong support network.
“I know firsthand through my own family’s experiences with my grandfather that having people who are there and willing to help can reduce the stress and make this journey a little easier for everyone involved.”
Through her weekly visits with Reg, Meagan was that positive force in his life. Reg looked forward to her sessions and in between them, he often asked Lorraine when “that girl” would be stopping by again (Lorraine and Reg are pictured, right).
There were challenges involved in working with a patient with Alzheimer’s. Communication was a struggle at first, Meagan reveals.
"When it comes to Alzheimer’s disease, every situation is unique so having an open mind is key. I made mistakes along the way but eventually figured out how to talk to Reg so he would get the most out of my visits. I kept my questions simple, let Reg decide what we would talk about, and made sure our visits were fun and stress-free for him."
Favourite Moments & Lessons Learned
Getting to know and spend time with Reg and his family was rewarding, both for him and Meagan.
For me, the difference I’m able to make in someone’s life becomes so clear when I spend time with them as an individual. Reg really came to value our friendship, as I did. Alzheimer’s patients can face social isolation as the disease progresses, and I’m glad I could help alleviate that feeling.
With Canada’s aging population, pharmacists are increasingly involved in working with patients to manage conditions like Alzheimer’s. Meagan shared advice for those working with Alzheimeric patients:
It’s important not to define the Alzheimer’s population by their disease, and to engage them in conversation and involve them in decision making whenever possible, as long as it isn’t too stressful for them. I think that what people with Alzheimer’s need the most is just to be supported and to never feel like a burden on their loved ones.
“One of the Most Rewarding Experiences”
Sadly, Reg passed away just a few days before Meagan’s last scheduled visit with him. She attended his funeral where Loraine introduced her to Reg’s family and friends. Surprisingly, many already knew about Meagan because Reg had described her.
They thanked me for my role in the last six months of Reg’s life. Lorraine also gave me an angel Christmas tree ornament and thanked me for being “her angel” over the past few months. The sense of appreciation I felt in that moment really brought clarity to the whole experience.
Meagan’s experience shines a light on the positive impact a volunteer companion can make in the lives of those with Alzheimer’s.
This kind of community support is just as important for the caregiver as it is for the person with Alzheimer’s, and it’s honestly one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer companion with the Alzheimer Society of Waterloo-Wellington, please contact Barbara Eastman-Lewin at 519-742-8518 ext. 2019 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.alzheimer.ca/en/ww/Volunteering
Explore other Waterloo Pharmacy volunteering experiences with the Community Service Stories series.