How football clubs are helping people living with dementia

Categories: Care, Community Engagement, and Featured.
Participants at Pass on the Memories, a workshop run by Everton Football Club

There are currently around 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, a figure that is projected to double to 1.6 million by 2040, and Alzheimer’s Research UK predict that 1 in 3 people born from 2015 onwards will develop a form of the condition.

While there is no cure available yet, there is evidence that certain activities can improve the quality of life of people living with the condition, from listening to music (including silent discos) and sensory therapies to gardening and gentle physical exercise.

Many of these innovative activities take place in community settings, with a number of them run by what may seem like unlikely providers: football clubs.

Four times a week people gather at The Blue Base – a venue run by Everton Football Club – for ‘Pass on the Memories’, where they play quizzes, bingo, take part in arts and crafts, sporting memory workshops, dancing and singing.

Delivered in partnership with Mersey Care NHS Trust, the workshops help those living with dementia to keep their brain activity at a high level and ensure their mind remains as active as possible.

Michael Salla, Everton’s Director of Health and Sport, explains the benefits these activities have on people taking part. “The project has supported participants with reducing social isolation, reducing loneliness, improving various aspects of lifestyle behavior like increasing physical activity levels and improving dietary habits, and also delivering activities which have been evidenced to slow the deterioration of dementia such as dance activities, musical memories, active bingo, quizzes and reminiscence sessions.”

The programme also provides respite to carers by offering them a space to discuss issues that have affected them and access support.

Birmingham’s Aston Villa Foundation runs the Dementia Activity Café, which as well as mental activities like quizzes, football reminiscence and word searches, provides gentle physical exercise sessions like bowling, walking football and boccia.

“We offer a dementia-friendly walking football element to the programme where there is no reliance on memory by eliminating rules” explains Michelle King, the Foundation’s Health and Wellbeing Officer. “For those people who are physically mobile this has allowed them to keep physically active, and enhances their physical wellbeing”.

“Many carers have reported that the person they are looking after is keen to attend the café and enjoys the socialisation with other people living with dementia. This allows the participants to engage in a safe and now familiar environment, and the carer to meet with people who also look after someone living with the condition and share experiences.”

The sessions are free for people to attend, and participants can self-refer. Michelle explains their reasons for launching the café: “We worked with people living with dementia during the delivery of our Generation Gains programme – a programme that aims to increase physical activity and reduce social isolation among over 65s. Along with this and public health stats we recognised a need to offer provision that offered physical and mental stimulation to people who had a dementia diagnosis.”

They worked with a focus group from the Alzheimer’s Society who gave feedback on their activities, and they are currently working with the NHS to discuss tools to help monitor the impact of the programme.

“Groups such as these can be a great way to help the person with dementia interact with others as well as being a good basis of support as they can speak to other people and families who are affected by the condition” says Emily Oliver, Consultant Admiral Nurse at Dementia UK.

Remaining active, both physically and mentally is also beneficial. “There is much evidence that what is good for the heart is good for the brain” she adds. “Exercising throughout your life can potentially delay a diagnosis of dementia, particularly vascular dementia, or reduce its symptoms. Gentle exercise such as walking outside or armchair aerobics can improve a person with dementia’s mood and provide some connection to other people.”

“Some people feel that engaging in brain training exercises, including Sudoku or word games, can increase their concentration and therefore help with their everyday memory.”

In addition to their workshops, Everton are working towards making The Blue Base dementia-friendly, with “signage, staff who are dementia champions, and awareness-raising sessions for participants and the general community” Michael says. “Within Goodison Park stadium we also have signage in place and stewards are trained dementia friends.”

Initiatives like this one are to be encouraged, Emily says. “The fast-paced and noisy nature of public places can be unsettling for someone with dementia. Many supermarkets have introduced slow checkout lanes for example to allow people with dementia to go at their own pace, helping them to preserve their independence.”

To find out more about local schemes and initiatives to help people with dementia, the Admiral Nurse Dementia Helpline can be contacted on 0800 888 6678 or by emailing helpline@dementiauk.org.