“Dementia Adventure’s values around person-centred care fitted with my own. I was very aware, through my work and family, that dementia doesn’t have to be the end of enjoying the things you love. It can actually lead to unexpected positive changes. Senses can become more sensitive – for example, some people really enjoy their food and are a delight to watch eat. Some people can become more joyous and laugh really loudly. The nicest part of my week is sitting with my mum and living at her pace. The world slows down and you can really enjoy a cup of tea and a biscuit.
There is so much that you can still do while living with dementia and I feel very strongly that we have to help people still do it.“
Jan had given up work to support her mum, who is living with Lewy Body Dementia, but soon realised her dad was also showing signs of dementia. It was a very difficult year, and Jan’s mum is now being supported in a local care home.
“With more free time, I decided to volunteer with Dementia Adventure. I personally love being outside and having that connection with nature, and I wanted to use my experience of supporting people living with dementia. It was the perfect volunteering opportunity for me.
I have always volunteered, and I find organisations vary a lot in terms of training, networking and recognition. The two day face-to-face training offered by Dementia Adventure felt like a real commitment and proper investment in me. It meant that I was prepared and equipped for my first holiday. I find Dementia Adventure very professional. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
Jan’s first Dementia Adventure holiday was in the Lake District. She wasn’t sure what to expect and some things surprised her.
“It was so rewarding – and felt like something momentous and significant. We had such a good laugh and I wasn’t expecting that! And I hadn’t realised that a big part of the satisfaction would come from the carers, who let us know how much they appreciated the help we were giving. I had assumed it would be the people with dementia.“
At the beginning of the holiday, Jan noticed a lady looking anxious, and asked what was wrong.
“She was worrying about mealtimes, as she knew her husband would become agitated if he wasn’t the first one to get his food. It was so lovely that I could solve this for her – I simply made sure he was always served first. She relaxed a lot more after that – she knew I had her back.”
Jan really enjoyed the holiday and found the itinerary a really strong point. She was struck by how well Dementia Adventure prepares the holidays for volunteers and guests.
“It’s such a lot of work to organise going out by yourself, but on a supported holiday, all the thinking has been done, so you can fit a lot into one day. Carers can’t believe they can do so much.”
Jan also loved watching how much the carers bonded on the holiday and benefited from sharing experiences.
“Everyone was from different backgrounds, but there was such an overlap. Nothing needed to be explained – they understood what each other was going through.
There was one occasion when we were all having dinner around a big table. One of the people with dementia hadn’t spoken much for a long time, not even to his wife. He suddenly started talking about his childhood: his dog, how he’d hiked up a mountain with his Dad. He was overwhelmed by memory and everyone was so emotional. It was a wonderful moment.”
Volunteering with Dementia Adventure has made Jan even more aware of people living with dementia in the community.
“It’s not just about the weeks that you’re on the holiday – you end up spotting people in your community and thinking about how to make space for them. I’ve learned that I am more patient than I thought I was, and to slow down for people who aren’t going at your pace.”
We asked Jan what her advice would be for anyone unsure about volunteering with us,
“Speak to any of the volunteers! I haven’t found any who aren’t fully on board and getting a lot from it, but they would be honest. No-one’s trying to sell you anything.”
Although you only go one or two weeks a year, it really brings something to your life. It’s a cliche, but it is nice to feel you’ve helped even one person. I would feel terrible if I had to stop doing all the outdoor things I love, just because I had dementia. So many people live with it – we can’t let it stop everything.”