A number of football clubs throughout England have started to engage with people suffering from dementia to help get them active and re-engage with their communities. Teams in both the Premier League and English Football League have set up schemes to encourage this demographic of society to do more football, walking and dancing.
Professor Alistair Burns, clinical director for dementia and older people’s mental health at NHS England, has endorsed the efforts. He highlighted the simple lifestyle changes that can reduce dementia risk in individuals.
He added: “Eating a healthy diet and exercising - even gentle workouts like walking football - drinking less, not smoking, keeping up your social networks and ensuring your mind stays active can all help.
“Dementia can lead to social isolation with people feeling disconnected from their communities and families after a diagnosis, which is why community schemes like these are so vital in helping people maintain these connections and live rich, active lives.”
Clubs including Everton, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, Derby County, Crawley Town, Mansfield Town and Watford are organising workshops as part of the scheme. Professor Burns has said such events can not only improve lives, but also help to extend them.
An estimated 676,000 people in the UK are living with dementia and it’s not just the individual who is affected. A third of the population will spend time caring for a relative or friend at some point, it is predicted.
There is currently no cure for dementia, just treatments that help to slow the progression of the disease when it is diagnosed early. Lifestyle choices, however, including healthy eating and regular exercise, are thought to help guard against dementia.
Physical activity that not only exercises the body but also keeps the brain active, such as football and dancing, is particularly useful. The added benefit of social interaction with others of a similar age is another key factor in the wellbeing of elderly dementia patients.
A recent report published by Age UK highlighted the growing plight of loneliness in the UK. It said that in just five years’ time, some two million over-50s will be feeling lonely. While there’s not just one solution to this problem, schemes such as Everton Football Club’s Pass on the Memories programme can help.
So far, 300 people living with dementia, along with their carers, have attended sessions at the club. It is hoped this will help to reduce social isolation, therefore improving the mental wellbeing and overall quality of life for those involved.
Everton’s scheme is assisted by the Mersey Care NHS Trust and involves everything from sporting reminiscence workshops to bingo sessions, singing and dancing lessons, and arts and craft days. Creating memory books for participants to take home with them is another way to optimise the impact of the programme.
The club says its Pass on the Memories programme has a 90 per cent retention rate. As football is an important part of many communities, it’s important that clubs continue to engage with fans as they age and cannot participate in the ways they originally would.