As fans around the country get ready for the traditional Boxing Day football fixtures, England’s top dementia doctor is encouraging older people to get involved in activities like walking football, hailing “innovative” community schemes run by professional football clubs across Premier and English Football League for people with dementia.
Professor Alistair Burns, NHS England’s national clinical director for dementia and older people’s mental health has praised football clubs up and down the country including Everton, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur, Derby County, Crawley Town, Mansfield Town and Watford, who are among clubs leading the way in running activities and workshops for people with dementia, which Professor Burns says “will help extend and improve lives”.
Professor Burns says: “There are simple lifestyle changes people can make to reduce their risk of getting dementia. 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.”
Praising the programmes, which are run by football clubs’ charitable arms, Professor Burns says they can be invaluable in helping people with dementia keep their brains active.
“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.
“As the NHS Long Term Plan ramps up moves to give people a timely diagnosis for dementia and improve care, football clubs – as the centre of communities and many people’s lives – have an open goal chance to team up with the NHS and improve lives.”
The NHS has warned that isolation and loneliness can have a serious impact on mental health, particularly as people get older, and with a recent report from Age UK warning that there will be more than two million lonely over-50s in five years’ time, playing and watching sport is a major activity that can bring people together to do physical exercise as well as keep the mind active through a shared experience.
Poor physical health issues like high cholesterol and blood pressure can be a warning sign for dementia, with risks reduced through regular exercise.
NHS England is building on diagnosing a record number of older people with dementia this year, by helping GPs refer patients to memory clinics as well as support the diagnosis of people in care homes.
The NHS Long Term Plan puts in place the building blocks for an effective and compassionate older people’s health service, with care and treatment joined-up between different services and located close to people’s homes and families.
In England it is estimated that around 676,000 people have dementia and one-in-three of us will care for someone with the disease at some point in our lives.
As the population ages, dementia is becoming a challenge for more families which is why helping people live well into old age and manage with dementia are key parts of the NHS Long Term Plan.
The Plan, which will see dementia workers among the army of new staff being recruited to work with GPs, is also ploughing an extra £4.5 billion into primary and community care.
Case study: Everton FC.
Everton’s Pass on the Memories scheme is delivered in partnership with the Mersey Care NHS Trust and helps approximately 300 people a year by running sporting reminiscence workshops along with bingo, dancing and singing sessions as well as arts and crafts days including the making of life story memory books.
It also provides the opportunity for carers to talk to other carers and professionals about issues affecting them and get support if they need it
Meanwhile, the club’s Stand Together programme – funded by the football league – aims to tackle social isolation among men and women over 70 by getting them involved in group activities including stadium tours, talks on the history of the city and interactive music and dance performances.
Michael Salla from Everton in the Community said: “In 2013, we launched our Pass on the Memories programme to meet the great need for provision to support people living with dementia. The programme has been evidenced to support hundreds of older adults- and their carers – with improving their quality of life, their mental wellbeing while reducing social isolation.
“The programme has a retention rate of more than 90%, and some of the older adults who joined the programme in 2013 are still engaged on a weekly basis today… seven years later!”
Case study: Extra Time Hubs
The English Football League Trust is creating a fully inclusive national social movement of people in their retirement years who meet on a weekly basis to socialise and to do the things they enjoy. The concept has been recognised by the World Health Organisation for its innovative approach to reaching and supporting older people. The first pilot locations are Bolton, Burton Upon Trent, Charlton (Greenwich), Crawley, Derby, Lincoln, Northampton, Plymouth, Shrewsbury, Sunderland and Wigan.
Adrian Bradley, Head of Health and Wellbeing at EFL, said: “We recognise that many football supporters will be diagnosed with or affected by dementia. We understand that everyone’s experience of dementia is unique and hence our clubs and charities are helping people to attend matches, are running activity groups, dementia cafes, support groups and reminiscence sessions. Our challenge is to help people live and enjoy their pre-diagnosis lifestyle for longer.”