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Bury St Edmunds: Barry’s ‘gift of the gab’ helps patients reminisce

09:28 02 April 2014

Barry Lovelace

Barry Lovelace


Spending time chatting to patients with dementia on the acute wards of West Suffolk Hospital has proved both heartbreaking and fulfilling for volunteer Barry Lovelace.

The 75-year-old, from Bury St Edmunds, took up the role around 18 months ago after retiring from his job as a company manager.

As someone with little aptitude for DIY or interest in gardening, he wanted to find something “meaningful” to fill his spare time.

So he approached the hospital about suitable positions and was soon on board as one of the new ‘reminiscence volunteers’.

Because Mr Lovelace volunteered with the Samaritans during the 1980s, he was accustomed to talking and listening to people, which made him well suited to the role.

Hospital can be a frightening environment for people with dementia, many of whom do not know why they are there. The volunteers’ job is to sit and talk to people with varying degrees of the condition and try to put them at ease.

Mr Lovelace, who is backing the hospital’s Forget Me Not campaign, said: “I’ve been told I have the gift of the gab so this seemed like the right thing for me to do. These people are in the hospital because they are unwell and the dementia is just a secondary issue. They are often unsettled and frightened but the nurses just don’t have the time to sit and talk to them for hours on end.”

He usually starts a conversation with a “stupid question” to provoke a reaction before taking the patients on a trip down memory lane.

He continued: “It’s amazing that someone who can’t remember what day of the week it is can recall their service days and can even remember their army service number.

“It’s extremely sad and very tough on the families. But if I can bring the individual back to what they used to be many years ago – albeit very briefly – then I feel like I have succeeded.”

Mr Lovelace is now involved in initiating new reminiscence volunteers into the role. He spends two hours at a time on the wards and believes it is a very worthwhile experience. He added: “When I look at some of these people and see that a person who has been the love of their life can be totally changed by dementia in a relatively short period of time, it makes me feel that I want to do something about it.

“I can converse with people; it gets me out of the house and certainly stops me feeling sorry for myself.

“It can be fulfilling and exasperating in equal measure but it makes me appreciate what I have.”

The hospital currently has 500 volunteers working across different departments. To find out more, call voluntary services manager Linda Murrell on 01284 713169.


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