People with dementia engaging in physical activity and sport in the community

This week one of our PhD students Chris Russell reflects on an event he recently attended relating to his research. Over to you Chris:

People with dementia engaging in physical activity and sport in the community: an opportunity to reflect on what my research indicates and consider how findings might be taken forward

On 27th March 2019 I attended the Active Ageing Forum for Gloucestershire, and presented aspects of my PhD research and early-stage findings. Active Gloucestershire is a charity which promotes and coordinates the provision of physical activity and sport to minority, excluded and ‘vulnerable’ populations across their county. They also have a public health remit to encourage and promote physical activity and sport to their wider population. Every county has an ‘Active Partnership’ charity with an identical mission.

The Active Ageing Forum meets quarterly to progress these ambitions throughout Gloucestershire and approximately 40 people attended this meeting. Alongside independent physical activity trainers, delegates came from leisure and sports providers, charities offering leisure and physical activity opportunities, housing and accommodation providers, and from residential care and nursing homes.

My presentation was well received, and as an early stage researcher whose project has reached the point of data analysis, this was a useful opportunity and occasion for several reasons. For example, in relation to analysis of my findings, I received feedback on the early insights contained within the headline features of my data from attendees with diverse experience within the sports, physical activity and care/ health fields. Thus, one delegate advised me to highlight the unique and context-specific value of the findings, particularly regarding people with dementia and their lived experience of engaging in physical activity and sport. At the same time, others reflected that insights about ‘dementia friendly/dementia positive spaces’, and the ‘best practice’ inherent in my data would be valuable because they were inclusive of many illnesses/conditions and the lived experience for people.

There was consensus that ‘places and experiences’ really do matter for people engaging in physical activity and sport. So the ‘place’ has to feel right and comfortable in order for people to contribute as fully as possible, and the ‘experience’ participants with dementia have as they engage must also meet their needs and aspirations. There is complexity and detail inherent in this. As my analysis continues I will explore the nuances of such features.

The opportunity and occasion was also useful because it enabled me to consider future possibilities to extend the learning from my original research project, which has been based in neighbourhoods/communities – specifically leisure centres and fitness gyms. For example, a fellow delegate reported back on the curling games she has initiated with residents with dementia at the care home where she works. People have enjoyed joining in, including those at a relatively late stage of their illness.

My PhD research is grounded in citizenship approaches, and findings indicate that the agency and empowerment of people with dementia can be strengthened via their engagement in physical activity in community settings. Thus, a logical next step might be to explore whether such outcomes are mirrored amongst people with dementia living in residential or nursing care settings. A strong motivation being the notion that agency, and empowerment are so often denied to people living in these circumstances. In other words, can regular engagement in physical activity/sport by people with dementia living in long term residential care strengthen and enhance their citizenship? It is a question I will ponder with my supervisory team as I continue to analyse the data from my PhD research and consider its implications.

Chris Russell and two others by an Active Gloucestershire banner
At the event – Chris Russell (right)

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