‘Side By Side’ Friendship Scheme Makes Christmas Shopping Fun Again For People With Dementia

Christmas shopping is stressful for most. But for the 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, it can be an absolute nightmare. And that’s where the Alzheimer’s Society’s ‘Side By Side’ service steps in.

The initiative sees volunteers partner up with people with dementia to help them keep doing the things they love – from joining a local club, to shopping, to going for a daily stroll.

“This extra support can make it easier for people with dementia, who might sometimes feel isolated or find it difficult to leave their homes, to do things we might take for granted,” the website explains.

The service is highly flexible and built around the individual and their needs. It currently operates across 35 locations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Rosemary Stearn, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in January 2016, and Eilish Nolan, a Side by Side volunteer, are just two people who have benefitted from the scheme.

Eilish (left) and Rosemary (right).

Rosemary, a former teacher, meets up with Eilish regularly to go shopping at her local M&S branch in Croydon.

Eilish told HuffPost UK that Rosemary sometimes struggles with money when it comes to paying for items, which is where she provides a helping hand. But the scheme is mutually beneficial, as the pair have become good friends and provide one another with a laugh a minute.

The Side by Side service plays a vital part in helping people with dementia get out and about in their local community – where often they face many challenges.

A survey by Alzheimer’s Society revealed that almost 80% of people with dementia listed shopping as their favourite activity. However 63% didn’t think that shops were doing enough to help people in their position.

Some of the main issues people with dementia face when out shopping include: problems navigating around the store, challenges caused by their memory problems (such as picking up the wrong item), problems at the checkout (such as having difficulty counting money), and concerns over how other people will react to them.

Ultimately, it is hoped organisations will start to think differently about how to support customers and colleagues living with dementia. But in the meantime, schemes like Side by Side are bringing laughter and companionship to those who need it most.