BEING in hospital can be a bewildering time for anyone, but for those suffering dementia or memory loss it can be even more isolating and frightening.

But thanks to the efforts of medics and volunteers at Southend Hospital, these vulnerable patients are being made to feel more at home through a befriending initiative which uses memory prompts to build a bridge of companionship.

Volunteer Millie Bealing, who is proving an expert at using her array of old newspaper cuttings, books on hobbies, and photographs of famous faces from the past to spark hidden memories and elicit friendly chats, is among those piloting the scheme.

The former hospital manager said: “I was given the opportunity to sit in on a staff training session on dementia, which I found really interesting. It helped me gain a better understanding of the varying levels of the condition and what I can do to help.”

The programme, which works with patients who find it hard to communicate, aims to promote interaction and conversation to improve their wellbeing.

While some patients can be reserved at the start of their sessions, most end up relaxing as they enjoy talking to a friendly face.

The befriending scheme was rolled out at the end of last year by consultant geriatrician Dr Ioannis Liakas, dementia nurses Christine Timms and Jill Ling, and the hospital’s voluntary services team.

Dr Liakas said: “Being in hospital and away from familiar surroundings can often be distressing or confusing for our patients.

“Studies show patients with dementia or confusion benefit from regular conversation and interaction.

“They become more relaxed and it is less likely they will deteriorate rapidly or require medication.”

Now the team is hoping to attract more volunteers so they can keep up with the demand for the successful service.

Dr Liakas said: “Approximately 12 per cent of all our adult patients have dementia or confusion so I hope we can offer these chats to more of them.

“Feedback from patients, relatives and ward staff has been excellent. Millie is passionate about her role. Now we just need to recruit more volunteers like her.”

To find out more about the befriender service, call the hospital’s voluntary services manager on 01702 435555, extension 6135.