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Volunteers Support Dementia Patients

On a sunny Friday morning, they were walking at Gardiner Home—the dementia palliative care unit of Hospice of the Valley in midtown Phoenix—where she was a patient and he was a volunteer. Because the woman had dementia and could no longer speak, their communication was nonverbal—a look, a touch, a tone.

“She’s on the move,” said Gordon Murphy, tucking the woman’s hand protectively in the crook of his arm as they strolled around the patio. “I’m here to make sure she is safe.”

Murphy served in the agency’s Memory Corps, volunteers who care for dementia patients at palliative care units and at home. Their methods include taking walks with wanderers; using music, picture books and toys to connect with patients, or simply sitting with patients to prevent potential falls.

Gardiner Home has been designated as an all-dementia unit. Staff members there say they couldn’t do it without volunteers’ help.

Todd Richter, certified nursing assistant, said, “The volunteers take responsibility for the wanderers and are such a help to the staff.  It gives me time to focus on patients so much more, and not just do tasks.”

Christopher Harper, RN, said, “They bring a different dynamic to the unit—making us less medical. It can be just little things—sitting talking to someone, singing to someone, a friendly face—that give patients a better quality of life and I don’t have to give as much medication. It makes a big difference.”