Can baseball help those suffering from dementia?
Definitely sounds strange. But evidence shows it can actually work.
Trying to communicate with a loved one with dementia can be challenging. One strategy some family members use to help is to bring out old photos and mementos. It could be wedding pictures, baby clothes, favorite music, etc. Anything that are reminders of happy events.
But baseball? Yep!
Research has found that for many seniors (men in particular) baseball cards and sports memories can also open the doors to communication.
The 1948 Indians World Series. Willie Mays making “The Catch”. Babe Ruth’s calling his home run. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak.
These, and other memorable sports events your loved one lived through, can be great conversation starters. They can prompt even the most non-verbal senior to share passionate memories.
Reminiscence Therapy for Dementia
This type of treatment is known broadly as Reminiscence Therapy for dementia.
In a memory care facility setting, reminiscence therapy falls under the umbrella of socialization programs. This is when seniors with dementia gather in a group setting and participate in activities with fellow Residents. Other common socialization programs include music and dance therapy, art projects, and light exercise.
Sports and Reminiscence Therapy
Reminiscence therapy is a type of dementia treatment developed to help manage the cognitive symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia using socialization.
The goal of this type of therapeutic activity is to stimulate people with dementia to talk about pleasant memories from the past.
And it turns out that sports reminiscence therapy can work well, particularly for men with dementia.
The idea of sports reminiscence therapy for dementia began in 2009 with a program in Scotland. It was called Football Memories (the “football” we in the U.S. call soccer!). The program brought together people with dementia to chat about soccer, their favorite teams and best memories in a relaxed social setting.
The success of this program sparked a similar program in the United States: baseball reminiscence therapy.
The first program launched in St. Louis. It was a partnership between the St. Louis Cardinals (MLB), the Alzheimer’s Association, the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Office, and St. Louis University. The program brought together veterans in the early stages of dementia with their caregivers to talk baseball.
There are now 6 baseball reminiscence therapy programs across the U.S. The activities range from singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” watching videos, looking at classic baseball cards, and talking about the past. In some programs, like the River House Adult Day Care Center in Cos Cob, CT, seniors have the opportunity to play wiffleball.
Michael Ego, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Connecticut, had this to say about the baseball reminiscence program:
“Simply hearing others talk about a sport they love clearly triggers enjoyable memories. By tapping into a shared passion, the participants become more engaged, and it seems to improve their self-esteem. My study is still ongoing. I’m still in the process of gathering data and qualitative assessments from the caregivers. But the laughter and smiles I witnessed during the wiffleball game tell me that something’s working.”
Making Reminiscence Therapy Work for Your Loved One
Research collected from the St. Louis baseball reminiscence therapy program shows some promising results.
It improved self-esteem, enhanced mood, and promoted communication skills in those with Alzheimer’s disease. And, by encouraging participants to share memories, the program has also shown positive effects on cognition.
So what does all this mean for your loved one? Here are 3 key takeaways from this approach to dementia care…
Utilize different forms of communication
Your loved one may not be able to discuss today’s current events. Or they may not be able to make decisions about how they want to spend their time. And as their disease progresses, the damage to their brain can make even simple tasks impossible.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t communicate with your loved one. Give reminiscence therapy a try as a form of dementia treatment.
If your loved one enjoyed sports… try watching old game highlights, looking at photos, or listening to music from that time period. Through these memories, your loved one can find comfort and joy.
Find local socialization programs
It may be difficult for family members to connect with loved ones with dementia. But having them interact with other seniors who have dementia (or share similar interests) can trigger positive memories.
Socialization programs like this can also help those in the early stages of dementia who feel ashamed or frustrated by their disease. Having a comfortable, trustworthy environment where they can talk about these feelings can help seniors (and their families cope) with a dementia diagnosis.
Explore On-Going Care Options
Whether it is talking baseball, listening to music, working on art projects, or expressing feelings through dance… there are a lot of personal dementia treatment options for seniors.
You obviously want your loved one to live as fulfilling and healthy a life as possible with Alzheimer’s disease. While there is no cure for dementia yet, there are ways to help your loved one feel acceptance, joy, happiness, and comfort while receiving Alzheimer’s care. Consider finding a local memory care facility so they get the help and support that they need.
To find a memory care center near you, search the listings here.