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ROLE MODEL

'After each session I get him back for a little bit'

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One determined health professional, Tony Jameson-Allen, and his team are making strides to improve the quality of life for dementia patients using sport

The loss of memory experienced by people with dementia can be distressing for relatives, carers and their friends. 

Tony Jameson-Allen, Chris Wilkins and Michael White found they had a way to bring old memories back to life for people with dementia.

The technique, developed by the trio as founding directors of the Sporting Memories Network, helps patients engage in meaningful and enjoyable conversation. 

The technique involves using “replay cards” that have a photo of a sporting legend on one side and information about them on the other to trigger memories. 

Studies have shown that it improves concentration and brings about a significant rise in interest levels by helping people develop and focus on personalised memories. This has been particularly difficult to secure in older male patients and, as a result, the technique is now being used by Erskine, a veterans’ charity that runs care homes. 

“Simply sitting down and engaging with people takes them back to a time when they were really passionate,” says Mr Jameson-Allen. 

“It can sometimes be difficult to keep conversation flowing with patients, but reading about sports legends whom they may have once admired can really help.” 

One patient for whom the technique was a success was former football player Bill. He had endless stories about football from the 1930s and 1940s. During his sessions, Bill was highly involved and, when asked by a researcher if he believed the technique was effective, he showed the researcher his handkerchief.

“See this,” he said, “it’s soaking wet with tears. Tears of joy.”

Mr Jameson-Allen has held managerial and directorial positions in several mental health foundations across the UK, and focuses on clinical expertise, partnership development and liaison, media relations and the web. Mr White concentrates on training and delivery, while Mr Wilkins focuses on product development, design and finance. 

Despite his work in mental health, it wasn’t until Mr Jameson-Allen made contact with a programme in Scotland that he learnt of sports reminiscence. 

It may be a relatively new idea but it has already received support from big names in sport, such as former English football manager and player Terry Butcher as well as Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. 

Originally established for older men, the company has been implementing reminiscence programmes aimed at women too. 

Mr Jameson-Allen is hoping to expand the network, so has launched a training pack containing an introduction to sports reminiscence, a guide to planning and running a session, 48 replay cards and guidance on evaluation.

The Sporting Memories Network has also launched a weekly newspaper, The Sporting Pink, for care homes and individual subscribers, which contains archive photos, results and reports from past sporting events.

The newspaper and the training kit provides staff with an interesting way to connect with patients, which in turn, promotes mental health.

This activity also benefits patients’ friends and relatives. 

Mr Jameson-Allen recalled one woman, in particular, who appreciates the effect sports reminiscence has on her husband. 

“After each session I get him back for a little bit,” she says. 

 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • there is a lot that can be done to improve the lives of individuals with dementia. it just requires the right resources and facilities and innovative and imaginative teams of well trained highly motivated staff from different areas of expertise. it is not rocket science and is about actually doing and not about thinking and writing about it. other European countries manage so why can't the UK?

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