World Alzheimer’s Day: Jane's dementia-friendly tennis sessions

21/09/2019

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Jane and Yvette at Jane's dementia-friendly tennis sessions

It's World Alzheimer's Day and we're shining the spotlight on Jane Burniston - a tennis coach from Surrey who runs England's only tennis sessions for locals living with dementia.  

Encouraged from an early age to play tennis thanks to her sporty parents, Jane has been a lifelong fan of the game - citing Bjorn Borg, Martina Navratilova and Roger Federer as her all-time favourite players.

In her early 30s, whilst working in a marketing role for family favourite board games Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary, Jane decided to take a coaching qualification which led to a career change as a Tennis Development Officer in Sutton. 

55-year-old Jane has since specialised in delivering tennis lessons for pre-school children, as well as coaching Mini Tennis sessions - the LTA's introductory programme for kids aged between three and ten.

12 years ago, Jane's dad Peter passed away and her mum Yvette - now 91 years old - was diagnosed with Alzheimer's five years later. Since Yvette's diagnosis, Jane explored various dementia-friendly activitites offered at Epsom and Ewell Council's Community & Wellbeing Centre, but was intrigued to see whether her mum would enjoy playing tennis again. So in 2014 when the centre held an open day, Jane took it upon herself to deliver free tennis taster sessions where she used similar exercises and equipment from her Mini Tennis sessions. 

It had been 30 years since Yvette had picked up a racket, but sure enough she loved it - as did the other participants who came along. 

The sessions proved to be a massive hit - not only with people with dementia like Yvette, but also with their carers and families. As a result, Jane has been running weekly sessions on Monday afternoons at the centre. 

Alzheimer’s Society Chief Executive Jeremy Hughes says: “Keeping active can reduce your chances of ­developing dementia, but evidence suggests it can also slow the ­progression of the condition, improving memory and slowing mental decline.

"Working out regularly improves the heart and bone health of people with dementia, along with flexibility, balance and strength. It also reduces the risk of falls and helps with the ability to dress, clean and cook.

“Everyone should be able to keep up an active lifestyle if they choose. Any form of physical activity is really beneficial for physical and mental health, increasing quality of life and that's why Jane’s dementia-friendly tennis is so important.”

Away from the Community & Wellbeing Centre, Jane divides her time between coaching at Westside Tennis Club in Wimbledon and working part-time as a Dementia Support Worker (GP Liason) for the Alzheimer's Society. 

On top of juggling her busy work and carer schedule, Jane is passionate about helping local coaches run similar dementia-friendly sessions, so more and more people living with dementia are given the opportunity to experience the same enjoyment as Jane's participants. She recently attended an LTA Disability Forum for Surrey coaches where she spoke about her sessions and gave advice to those looking to follow in her footsteps. Moving forward, Jane hopes to act as a mentor for coaches looking to set up sessions. 

Importantly, she makes time to enjoy tennis and recently went along to Wimbledon with her mum where they were treated to performances from British No.1 Johanna Konta, rising star Coco Gauff and three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray - who, Jane says, remains fondly in Yvette's memory.  

Get involved!

Everyone can get on court and have fun - discover all of the different ways you can play today.
Alzheimer’s Society has tips and expert advice on how people with dementia can stay active. To find out more, visit alzheimers.org.uk/sport

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