The Companion Walking Service (CWS) is now two years old. It has been a rollercoaster ride with the stop-and-starts due to Covid-19, but it continues on with the support of our fantastic, dedicated volunteers. Without the support of the wonderful volunteers, this service would not reach those that have benefitted from it. It has assisted many people in various situations. For example there was Elsie, aged 95 year old, who had a fall on a bus. After recovering in hospital, she returned back to her home where she lives alone. With only a sister close by, she had no one to go out for walks with. She had lost her confidence, and was so afraid of falling and ending up back in hospital. When I put out the call to our volunteers, Gemma stepped forward and was able to visit Elsie once a week. They went out for walks up and down her street. She now feels stronger and more confident, and has met her neighbours whilst out on those walks. Elsie told Age Concern Wellington Region staff that she is so very grateful to her volunteer and continues to live independently in her own home.
For older people recovering from time in hospital, going out walking with a volunteer has several benefits. It not only improves their circulation and mobility of their joints, but increases muscle tone as well. This helps to improve their balance, reducing the risk of falls and ending up back in hospital. The other important factor of going out for walks with a companion is the positive impact it has on the clients’ mental health. Going out with a companion, having someone to talk with and being outside with nature has an uplifting effect; this often leads to a release of endorphins that makes us feel happier. Going out also gave Elsie the opportunity to talk to her neighbours, to feel part of the community and less lonely.
A lot of referrals the CWS receives are for people experiencing dementia. Research tells us when people are alone and not involved in conversations, there can be a rapid cognitive decline. Exercise and mental stimulation can contribute to the delaying of the effects of dementia. Take Jack’s situation: he has mild dementia, his wife still works full-time, and he spends a lot of time on his own watching television. He visits the Chelsea Club once a week, and had a friend come round Fridays. He loves walking, and his volunteer Tom is able to enjoy long walks each week with Jack. They go to different areas like the waterfront, the Botanical Gardens and many more places. Jack loves to reminisce about his early life in the army and is a great sports fan. His eyes light up and his face comes to life when he speaks of his passion for sports. Each week he has his shoes and coat on, and waits at the door, looking forward to a new place to visit and his friend to chat with.
As the Age Concern Wellington Region CWS Coordinator, Lynn Crossland feels very privileged to meet so many kind and caring people in her role. Nothing makes her happier than hearing from clients and volunteers just how much they enjoy going out together for a walk and stopping for a coffee or ice cream. If you are keen to become a volunteer and have an hour to spare, or if you know someone who would benefit from the Companion Walking Service, then please contact us on 04 499 6646.
~ Lynn Crossland, Companion Walking Service Coordinator