Sports – both playing and watching – are a powerful way to connect people to each other and to their memories. Many people who suffer from dementia are still able to play the sports they enjoyed when they were younger and to find happiness in fitness and competition. It’s also common for people who tend not to interact with others much to become more active while playing or discussing sports.
BBC reports about an organization based in North Yorkshire, United Kingdom, called The Sporting Memories Foundation. The organization brings together people over 50, most of whom suffer from dementia, to talk about and play sports. They hold weekly meetings in which groups of men reminisce about sports events from the past. The banter and friendly chat fosters confidence in the men, leading them to talk about other things and form new friendships.
According to the Alzheimer’s Society, The Department of Health recommends 150 minutes of moderately strenuous physical activity per week. This is equal to 30 minutes a day, and can be carried out in two 15 minute stretches instead of all at once. In the early to middle stages of dementia, a person can often continue the physical activities they were used to doing before dementia set in, and can even add new sports.
Although you might not think of gardening as exercise, it’s actually really good for strengthening muscles and improving breathing. It provides an opportunity for getting out into the fresh air and can be very satisfying.
Dancing increases flexibility and reduces stress. It has the added value of being a social activity. A weekly dance class or an occasional party can be extremely enjoyable for a person with dementia. Even people in wheelchairs can enjoy dancing from a seated position.
Swimming is calming and improves balance, thereby reducing the risk of falling. This is a sport which is best engaged in with supervision.
Walking is, of course, the simplest and least expensive sport out there. Each person can walk at his own pace and for the length of time he can manage. It can be done with a group or with just one companion.
If you’re caring for a person with dementia, now is a good time to add some exercise into their lives. Exercise has both long-term and short-term benefits, including mood boosting, improved sleep and greater self-esteem.