While at 89 most octogenarians might be taking life easy – or being cared for by others – Jane Nicholas is doing the exact opposite. We meet one of our oldest volunteers.
Jane, a former Royal Ballet dancer with an OBE for services to dance, is still very active. She takes a weekly Pilates and computer class and gets around London on a scooter.
She’s also a volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Society Side by Side service, which helps people living with dementia to keep doing the things they love, such as going to a football match, visiting a cafe or simply taking a stroll in the park.
Caring for a loved one with vascular dementia
Jane’s husband Bill had vascular dementia and passed away four years ago.
'It was really the last two years that were difficult. He just clocked off from life, which became so small and so negative. I adored him and I miss him terribly.
'We met in a mental hospital where we were both having breakdowns after our first marriages. And for 50 years we looked after each other and it worked.'
Deciding to get involved with Side by Side
Exhausted after caring for Bill for so long, it took two years for Jane to get back on her feet.
While most people might then have considered slowing down, particularly at the age of 89, Jane was keen to make a difference.
'I’ve got my energy back now and I feel like I want to do something. I want a purpose.'
Friends suggested she use her invaluable experience of caring for Bill in a voluntary role.
Every Saturday Jane hops on her scooter to visit a lady in Hammersmith & Fulham who happens to be the same age as Jane, 89.
'I call us the twins,' she laughs.
The lady Jane visits isn’t very mobile, so she takes her knitting along, makes her a cup of tea and chats to her for a couple of hours.
'She always says "I’m so glad you came" and she is always extremely welcoming.'
Jane was there while her great grand-daughters visited and she said it was lovely to see her interacting with the toddlers.
Supporting people who may feel isolated
Danny Branch, the Side by Side Coordinator for Hammersmith & Fulham who recruited Jane, believes she is doing an invaluable job.
'We are very fortunate to have Jane as a volunteer. She is an inspiration and shows that age really is just a number. I remember meeting her for the first time, when she arrived at her interview on her scooter, told me her age and thinking ‘This lady is amazing’!
'She has visited many people in the borough, reducing their loneliness and isolation and providing much-needed social contact, as well as a sense of warmth and happiness.'
While Jane is Danny’s oldest volunteer he also has people as young as 16 working for him.
'Most of our volunteers are between the ages of 21 and 30. Many of them are looking to pursue a career in medicine or social care and are keen to learn about dementia. But it’s the personal relationship they develop with the clients that makes the difference.'
Danny also says volunteering is very much a reciprocal relationship.
'One volunteer was taught the guitar by the person with dementia; another learnt Arabic.'
Side by Side is available in 58 locations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with more in the pipeline.
Become a Side by Side volunteer
Whether you’d like to volunteer face-to-face, over the phone or both, we’ll give you the training you need.