Dementia befriending scores success online

Dementia befriending scores success online

A YOPEY volunteer at work before the pandemic

A YOPEY volunteer at work before the pandemic

The significant increase in dementia diagnoses has encouraged the voluntary sector to focus increasingly on the challenge of dementia care. Local charity YOPEY runs a befriending service, part-funded by the Evelyn Trust, that trains and supports young people to befriend elderly people living with dementia in care homes.

Tony Gearing MBE, founder and Chief Executive of YOPEY and a former national newspaper journalist, explains how the idea developed:

“YOPEY started as a charity to counteract the negative image of young people in the media by celebrating their contributions to society through positive publicity and awards schemes. More recently we recognised the loneliness experienced by some elderly dementia patients living in residential homes and we knew from our work that there would be many young people willing to help. That sparked the idea for this intergenerational project - YOPEY Dementia Befriender - bringing young and old together for friendship and better mutual understanding.”

Working with older students recruited through secondary schools, YOPEY inspires and trains them to support residents with any of the many different types of dementia. This training is not only critical to their befriending, but aims to build more awareness and understanding of dementia in the community. This should empower young people with the skills to help members of their own family if diagnosed with dementia.

“Our service was planned for delivery face-to-face in residential homes, so we needed to change quickly when the pandemic hit. We turned our young volunteers to letter writing and compiling activities, such as word searches, that are going down a storm in the care homes. We also have young people filming themselves singing songs from yesteryear, or demonstrating skills, such as baking and knitting, learned during lockdowns. These we put into YOPEY Virtual Variety Shows that can be seen on YouTube.”

To stay safe, everything is received from the young people and sent on to the care homes digitally to avoid transmitting coronavirus on surfaces.

The pandemic has opened up an opportunity for YOPEY to work with many more people than before. Instead of working face-to-face with about a dozen care homes in the East of England before the pandemic, YOPEY is now supporting over 1800 care homes nationwide. The bulk of the young volunteers, though, continue to come from the East of England with new schools coming on board including two recently from Cambridgeshire.

“Working virtually with both schools and care homes has gone so well that the jury is out on whether we continue down this path when care homes fully reopen or return to face-to-face befriending,” adds Tony.

To find out more about YOPEY’s unique work bringing generations together, visit

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