As my time working for Touchstone comes to an end, I have been reflecting on my experience here and the things I have learnt. When I first started here last year, I had just finished university and this was my first paid experience working in a charity organisation. I remember being nervous and excited about all the aspects of my new job, but I was particularly wondering how I might connect with our Hamari Yaadain Dementia Café members.
I knew my past volunteering experience working with vulnerable adults would come in useful, but in my first Dementia Café, I quickly realised there could be a few challenges ahead due to the language barrier. With dementia, many people revert back to their mother tongue and lose language skills they learnt later in life. I chose not to let this be a barrier for me creating positive relationships with the group.
In my first few weeks I became a Dementia Friend, which really helped me understand how to relate to and engage with the group. With the dementia, I found that it took a little while for people to remember my name, but I could tell they recognised my face. Occasionally, people forget my name from time to time but I know not to take this personally or berate them for this. I know that with dementia, people are more likely to remember how you treat them than details about you such as your name. I always ensure to smile, speak calmly and be patient with them, to remind them I am there to help.
I made it my mission to learn everyone’s names first. This showed the group I was interested in them as people and wanted to get to know them. I then spent the next few weeks asking about their cultural backgrounds, their family lives and their interests. I found that using eye contact; smiling, speaking clearly and using hand gestures enabled people to better understand me. For some people with reduced hearing, it has been important that I speak with them on a one-to-one basis to ensure they are not distracted by other sounds in the room. Over time, I have been able to follow conversations in Punjabi and understand what people are saying to me without being fluent in the language myself. I have appreciated hearing their life stories, their stories of migration and their first experiences when they moved to the UK. I have had an incredible time getting to know the group and I have been amazed by their openness and generosity in sharing their stories and experiences with me. The group have been very kind in welcoming me to the group and I will genuinely miss seeing them regularly when I finish here.
I just wanted this blog to be a reminder that difference in language, age, gender, ability, race or religion does not need to be a barrier for people to connect and form relationships. If you are willing to listen, share, show patience and respect, then wonderful things can happen!