It was the mood swings that startled Cathleen Rawlings the most. As her mother’s dementia progressed, her mother would become very angry and lash out. “I think that was surprising to me,” Rawlings said. “She’s not going to just be this cute little old lady who says funny things.”

As many families know, caring for someone with dementia means preparing for the unexpected. This year, Hospice of the Chesapeake’s Volunteer Team added dementia care training to its educational programming to better equip all volunteers for what can be a difficult visit. 

In May, volunteers participated in Dementia Live training through the Anne Arundel County Department of Aging. The program uses confusing sounds and other sensory deprivation to offer a deeper understanding of what it is like to live with dementia. 

Joan Blum has volunteered with the nonprofit for 28 years. She participated in the training and found it very enlightening. Participants wore headphones blasting a cacophony of sounds like sirens and crowds of people. Wearing garden gloves to deaden their sense of touch, each participant had a different task to complete. 

“All I heard the instructor say was ‘cat,’ so I looked for a cat. After I found this toy cat, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next. I stood there.” Blum said. “It felt like 15 minutes. It was just four minutes. It was so frustrating.” 

Blum encourages more volunteers to take the class. “It gave me a better perspective as to what dementia patients might be experiencing and reminds me how I need to respond when they can’t communicate.” 

Earlier this year, the Alzheimer’s Association provided Hospice of the Chesapeake volunteers with virtual education to further enhance their understanding of this difficult diagnosis. The classes explored how to decode behavioral messages, identify common behavior triggers, and learn how to intervene during common behavioral challenges like the mood swings the Rawlings family experienced. 

As a volunteer who has cared for many hospice patients with dementia, including his mother, Ed Allen said the program offered fundamental information that served as a useful reminder. One important take-away for him was learning not to correct the patient. 

“When your mother keeps calling you by your uncle’s name, don’t say, ‘I’m not your brother, I’m your son.’” Instead, he said, “Just go with the person to try to understand where they are in that moment. Then you can usually keep the energy positive. You may even find out something about the relationship between your mother and your uncle.” 

The training has been so well received, the organization will offer more in the fall. They also will offer education for volunteers that could lead to becoming a certified dementia volunteer. 

Families of dementia patients turn to and trust these volunteers who come into their homes. Thanks to the support of donors and community organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association and Anne Arundel County Department of Aging, Hospice of the Chesapeake can continue to offer training and resources to help its volunteers feel even more confident in caring for dementia patients and their families. 

To learn more about volunteering with Hospice of the Chesapeake, visit

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