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‘Groundbreaking’ new scheme examines impact of swimming on dementia

‘Groundbreaking’ new scheme examines impact of swimming on dementia

Amateur Swimming Association | Swim England

4 min read Partner content

The Amateur Swimming Association’s Head of Health and Wellbeing, Lara Lill, describes the benefits of the organisation’s pioneering dementia friendly swimming project.

Swimming is widely recognised as an activity that can deliver a range of health benefits from weight loss to lower blood pressure, but that may only be a small part of its potential.

A groundbreaking project by the ASAis providing training and guidance for local pools to make them accessible and welcoming to people living with the dementia and their carers.

The dementia friendly swimming projecthas been piloted in Manchester and Durham, and will soon be extended to other cities around the country. 

“The nature of the project is to build a network of dementia friendly pools,” says ASA’s Head of Health and Wellbeing, Lara Lill.

Explaining how this will work in practice, she continues: “Firstly, we are looking at the environment of the pool and seeing what changes can be made to create a warm, friendly and safe environment.

“Another element is the training, and we have been working with Alzheimer’s Societyto deliver ‘Step Inside’ training to all of the staff within the leisure centre. The whole point is to create an awareness of some of the challenges that people living with dementia may face so staff can anticipate any issues and feel comfortable responding to them.

“The third element is, of course, the activity. The pilot involves looking at all kinds of pools and creating different types of sessions. Through the insight we are gathering on people with dementia, we are trying to discover which activities deliver the most benefits for them.”

The scheme, which is currently in its first year, is being funded through the Department of Health and will undergo rigorous scrutiny to determine the health benefits. 

The ASA is working with a number of high-profile individuals and institutions to ensure that the research is thorough and robust.

“We have comprehensive monitoring and evaluation ,” Ms Lill says.

“We are lucky enough to have Professor Kenneth Fox of Bristol University overseeing the evaluation. He is looking at time and effort versus results achieved, while Continuum Leisure is working to collect data of participants attending to populate our learning and measure the impact. “We have also got the University of East Anglia and their health economist doing the economic impact assessment for us, working out what contribution this project can make to the healthcare system.”

Producing data that can be used by the healthcare sector and inform policy at both a national and local level is vital, Ms Lill adds, because the subject is in need of more evidence.  

“We decided that we wanted to make sure that we gather all the evidence because there is very little research that exists on swimming and dementia. So this is groundbreaking research,” she says.

In putting together this work the ASA hopes to prove that swimming delivers the positive outcomes to people with dementia that they know it can.

Even at this early stage of the project the organisation is impressed with the improvements they have witnessed in participants, and are optimistic that those will build as it progresses.  

For Ms Lill, involving the local community is vital for its long-term success.

She says: “The beauty of this project is it is very much driven at a local level, so we are really encouraging that local leadership element. We wanted to work with cities that have a focus on health, and a particular focus on dementia so that it fits in with their local health strategy.

“By doing that and having the right people round the table it means that everyone prioritises the scheme. That is key, not only to embed it but also to get the impact that we want.”

The impact may be more wide-ranging than the ASA originally envisioned, as improving facilities specifically for people with dementia provides access for others with different, and sometimes related health issues, such as mental health problems and obesity.

In terms of policy, this creates significant potential for making long-term savings in healthcare, which is a message the ASA is determined to put forward.

Ms Lill says: “We can’t prove that swimming can cure dementia, but we can show it improves a person’s quality of life.

“What we will also be proving is the economic value and the savings that can be made to healthcare costs, through people being more active, as well as staying in their own home for longer before they need to go into care homes.”

With local authorities still coming under pressure to find savings, proving the economic value of services has never been more necessary.

For more information on the project visit www.swimming.org/dementiafriendly

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