Alzheimer’s Society and Sport England launch first Dementia-Friendly Sport and Physical Activity Guide

Posted On: 
12th February 2019

Alzheimer’s Society and Sport England have joined forces to call on the sport and physical activity sector to commit to becoming dementia friendly and reduce the barriers that prevent many people affected by dementia from taking part in sport and physical activity. 

The appeal was issued as Alzheimer’s Society today (Tuesday 12 February) launched its first Dementia-Friendly Sport and Physical Activity Guide at the Kia Oval cricket ground in London. 

The guide has been developed in partnership with input from across the sports sector and people living with dementia, with National Lottery funding from Sport England. It is designed to help the sport and physical activity sector to support - and empower - people who are living with dementia to lead active lives and remain independent for as long as possible. 

Dementia is one of the greatest challenges facing society today - there are 850,000 people living with the condition in the UK.

The practical guide aims to inform and educate individuals and organisations so they have a better knowledge of dementia and how it affects people. It also provides tools and guidance so that the sector can help more people affected by dementia enjoy the benefits of staying active in a caring and understanding environment.

And by becoming dementia-friendly, leisure centres, sports clubs and gyms can reap the benefits of improved customer experiences and increased revenue. 

With 225,000 people developing dementia each year - that’s one person every three minutes – being dementia friendly will help organisations retain and build on existing custom, both from people living with the condition and from carers, families and friends.

As well as leisure centres, sports clubs and gyms, the guide can also be used by any individual or group looking to deliver physical activity such as sports coaches, personal trainers, physiotherapist and occupational therapists or community leaders. 

It also highlights a selection of activities and ideas suitable for delivery in a variety of settings such as community halls, care homes and other non-traditional physical activity venues. 

The launch is backed by people with dementia and pioneering figures from across the sport and the physical activity sector. 

Tracey Shorthouse, 48, a former community staff nurse who lives near Folkestone, Kent, was diagnosed with young onset Alzheimer’s and Posterior Cortical Atrophy in 2015, regularly visits her local gym. She said:

“I have a little exercise routine that’s really important to me because I know what’s good for the heart is good for the head and it probably keeps the dementia at bay. 

“My memory’s not bad at all - my dementia affects balance and vision and although I always put on a brave face it’s not all sweetness and light and can be scary but the gym has a feel-good factor.

“I feel lucky that the people at the gym are so supportive and I hope gyms and sports centres follow their lead because the benefits of everything from walking football to work-outs are socially and physically vital to people with dementia.”

Worcester Warriors won a 2018 Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friendly Award for their work, led by the Premiership rugby club’s disability lead Simon Northcott who said:

“We’re really proud of the pioneering work we’ve done to make our club dementia-friendly and remove any barriers to leading active lives facing people living with the condition.

“We set up our Tackling Dementia Sports Café which gives people with dementia a chance to take part in sporting activities and we’ve provided a safe place on matchdays at our Sixways home for people with dementia to watch top-class sport.

“I’d like to think we’ve proved you don’t have to stop doing the things you love because of a dementia diagnosis and, indeed, we’ve seen people use it as a spur to have a go at rugby for the first time which is truly inspirational.”

LiveWire, the largest provider of leisure facilities in the Warrington area, is blazing a trail with a community hub designed to ensure a safe, welcoming environment for people affected by dementia. Managing Director Emma Hutchinson said: 

“We want our community hub to be regarded as one of the UK’s most dementia-friendly community facilities, so, from the first stages of the design process; we considered all aspects of the customer experience from lighting and layout to signage and colour scheme.  

“But the dementia-friendly tone is set from the start - a friendly welcome from staff who are all Dementia Friends and now have a better understanding of the condition and how they can support people affected by dementia.”

Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive Officer at Alzheimer’s Society, said: 

“Dementia can devastate lives and it is vital that people with dementia are enabled and empowered to live the life they want in their community. 

“Visiting a gym, sports centre or favourite leisure facility to take part in physical activity can be daunting for people with dementia, loved ones and friends – but with support and adjustments from sport and physical activity providers, they will remain active. 

“We need the whole sector to unite against dementia by committing to the actions outlined in the guide and make employees Dementia Friends, so no one has to face dementia alone.”

The guide is part of a £1.7 million National Lottery-funded partnership with the Richmond Group of charities, bringing together 10 of the biggest charities in health to deliver projects to help people with long term health conditions to get active. 

Commenting on the guide, Chief Executive Officer at Sport England Tim Hollingsworth, said:

“We want to transform the way the sport and physical activity sector thinks, acts and talks about dementia – with every leisure centre, community hall and sports club equipped with the resources to meet the needs of those living with the condition. 

“Whether it’s a leisure facility management team, reception desk staff, an exercise professional leading a class, community coaches, or volunteers, we need them to make small changes needed to support people affected by dementia to get active and keep active.

“Defeating dementia won’t happen overnight, but until that day, we must all pull together to create a dementia-friendly society and that is why I’m proud to support this guide and commend the sport and physical activity sector for uniting against dementia.”