Baseball’s Winning Role in Treating Alzheimer’s
New socialization programs built around sports
What are your most treasured sports memories? Was it the afternoon you saved the day on the ball field with a great catch? The game-winning hit? Do you remember sitting in the stadium when your favorite player belted one out of the park? These recollections are both powerful and sweet.
Flash forward to today. A cutting-edge technique to help Alzheimer’s patients is sports reminiscence therapy.
Let’s learn how America’s pastime, baseball, gives people with dementia a richer, happier life.
The Power of the Group
Sports reminiscence therapy is socialization program. People gather in groups and do activities - and have fun - with their peers.
Most socialization programs involve music, storytelling, theater or dance. Most of these cater to groups of women, since 2/3 of people requiring memory care are women. For men with dementia, sports reminiscence therapy is starting to spread.
Why does sports reminiscence therapy work? Why do sports memories work? It strikes a chord with ‘the reminiscence bump’ — our ability to recall events from when we were 10 to 30 years old. People with dementia retain 'reminiscence bump' memories. Simple triggers can bring back these memories.
Let’s Play Ball!
Baseball reminiscence therapy started in St. Louis in 2013. It grew out of a similar program in Scotland. Today it's used in 6 locations around the United States. One location is River House, an adult day care center in Greenwich, Connecticut. This is where Professor Michael Ego is studying its merits. He is the Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Connecticut.
As he describes it, “persons with dementia, caregivers and volunteers all gather in a group setting every two weeks. They might talk about where they were when they learned that Bobby Thompson hit the “Shot Heard Round the World.” Or relive Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Sometimes they’ll watch old footage of New York Yankees, New York Mets, Brooklyn Dodgers and NY Giants games. Or listen to radio broadcasts featuring legendary broadcasters Mel Allen and Red Barber.
“Simply hearing others talk about a sport they love clearly triggers enjoyable memories,” Ego writes.
Getting into the Game, and Playing
Sports reminiscence includes videos and storytelling. It can also give people a chance to play ball.
Professor Ego describes a program from March 22, 2018:
"Participants showed up, sang ‘God Bless America’ – and then learned that they would be playing Wiffle Ball, (Wiffle Ball was invented in nearby Shelton, Connecticut).
They took turns reading the rules aloud from a printed handout and watched a video of people playing outdoors, before being led to a makeshift ‘baseball diamond’ in the center’s activity room.
The 2 inning game included bats, balls and bases. Players took turns stepping up to the plate and covering the infield and outfield. The game ended with a spirited round of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
Broad Benefits of Baseball Therapy
Memory-trigger therapy can also elevate mood and stimulate wider conversation. Researchers like Professor Ego are hoping that baseball therapy can stimulate long-term memory. If that's true, baseball therapy could
- Improve short-term memory
- Increase self-worth
- Increase social engagement
We may not be able to stop dementia from stealing our parents' or spouse's memories. But baseball therapy is more proof that there are many things we can do to help.
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