May 19, 2022

“I feel really honoured”: Aged care volunteer shares the joys of spending time with residents

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Pam Alexander has been volunteering with Arcare Sanctuary Manors on Queensland’s Gold Coast for eight years now. She “absolutely adores” her twice weekly visits to the aged care home.

Pam spends much of her time at the aged care home just talking to the residents. She loves it, but when she first began volunteering she was a little nervous. 

“I thought, ‘What am I going to say?’” Pam told HelloCare. 

But these days she has no such reservations. 

“Honestly, I don’t have to talk about much at all. They usually do all the talking,” she admitted with a laugh. The conversation usually drifts towards family and their lives before moving into aged care. 

Some residents are “a bit sad”, Pam acknowledged, but the talking helps. By the time Pam leaves them, the resident usually tells her how much they’ve enjoyed the chat and thanks her for coming.

“It’s just lovely just sitting there and listening,” Pam said.

Sadly, some residents don’t have many visitors. 

“It’s difficult for them,” Pam admitted. 

“Most of them don’t leave their room. They don’t want to mingle or do anything. So I go in there and we have a lovely chat.”

Sometimes the residents ask her, “Why am I here?” Pam usually replies, “I don’t know why you’re here, but we’ll make the most of it while you are here,” and she asks them about themselves and the conversation soon starts flowing.

Pam always makes sure she spends ”quality time” with the residents and aims to “really be there”. 

Pam raised four children and worked in the printing industry until her early 60s. When the business closed overnight, she was made redundant on the spot. “I was devastated,” said Pam.

Looking around for a new career, Pam decided to pursue her interest in the care sector.

While enrolled in a dual diploma in community services and counselling, she applied for a placement with Arcare. She was given the role and eight years later is still there. It’s been “a really nice time of my life,” Pam said.

Pam is also a crafter, and often leads residents in crafting activities, whether it be papier mache or colouring in.

“They love everything you show them,” shared Pam. “When I show them something many say, ‘I could never do that’. And I’ll say, ‘Yes, you can. I know you can’, and they do! 

“It’s just an absolute pleasure to take things in and show them. They get creative and then they think to themselves, ‘Oh yeah, I did do that’,” Pam added. 

During COVID-19, Pam did craft sessions online, but she’s back visiting in person now. 

When she spoke to HelloCare, she was preparing her next session. 

“I’m getting a lot of gum leaves and leaves from the park ready, and I’ve been painting them,” she explained. 

She knows some will say the activity is beyond them, but with Pam’s organisation and encouragement, they can all usually create something. 

“They surprise themselves,” Pam said.

Initially Pam would get three or four residents turning up to her craft sessions, now there’s almost not enough room on the tables for everyone who wishes to attend. 

“It’s just lovely,” Pam exclaimed. “They get into everything and they absolutely adore it.”

Pam said her friends sometimes don’t understand the appeal of volunteering in aged care. People ask her, “Why do you do it? Doesn’t it depress you?” She replies that it’s the opposite! 

Pam has shared many wonderful moments with residents, but one outing with a 101-year-old gentleman stands out as particularly special. 

Arcare had taken a group to go on the trishaws along the Broadwater. Pam and the gentleman shared a trishaw, which has a single wheel at the front and two behind, and the passengers sit at the front while “lovely volunteers” cycle them around. 

The passengers have an uninterrupted view and can feel the wind in their hair as they are cruised through the landscape.

“That was a pretty special day,” Pam recalled. “His conversation, everything was lovely. They all absolutely adored it. And I’ll tell you what, when they drive along there on a sunny day, it’s heaven.”

Volunteering is “so rewarding in so many ways”, Pam said. 

“It’s an amazing thing to do. I feel loved when I’m there. I feel appreciated. It’s wonderful. Don’t think about it, just go. And if you don’t like it, you don’t like it. But really, there’s a lot of rewards for being there.”

When Pam turns up, the residents often say, “We’ve missed you” or “Where have you been?”

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