Jane on her scooter

Jane, the amazing 89 year old volunteer supporting a local woman with dementia

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.'

Jane wearing her helmet

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. 

Jane riding her scooter

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.

Find out more

5 comments

Add your own

I like to help the ‘Marlow Bridge’ Rotary Club to make Marlow Dementia Friendly. I am a member of the original Rotary Club of Marlow and I would like to help our Sister Club.
How do I do this?

Hi Marion, thanks for getting in touch! Please contact our Dementia Friendly Communities team and somebody there will be able to advise: [email protected]

Thanks,
-Alzheimer's Society blog team

I do hope that you can offer some suggestions on how to deal with my 91 year old mother who has stage 4 Alzheimer's. She refuses all offers of sociability and mixing with peers. She is in total denial of needing mobility aids and has shown recent signs of incontinence. Mother is on Assisted Living Allowance which provides her with house cleaning, hairdressing and chiropody assistance. She does everything else with the help of family. My relarionship with her is extremely strained. I see her once a week for an hour and find great difficulty in being civil and respectful.
Thank you for reading this.

Hi Janet, we'd be very happy to talk to you and offer advice and support.
Please contact our Helpline on 0300 222 11 22.

Thank you

Jane was a remarkable and very active woman. I only met her a few times as she asked me to help her self-publish her husband's Bill's poetry. I am very proud of the finished private printing (Oxfordfolio) and my brief association with Jane. She radiated energy.

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