Leisure time for people affected by dementia: reflections on attending the Leisure Studies Association Conference in Dundee

Chris Russell, one of our PhD students in sport and dementia reflects on a recent conference he attended…

Between July 9th and 11th I attended the Leisure Studies Association (LSA) conference hosted by Abertay University, in Dundee.

Logo for the Leisure Studies AssociationRegistration banner for the conference

The LSA is a learned academic society which addresses leisure issues from a range of academic disciplines, industry, commerce and government. Through its work, and that of its membership, it explores ways in which leisure represents the state of society and the effects of social change.

Attending the conference enabled me to understand my subject better (people with dementia engaging in sport), and to enhance my academic practice. Leisure is important because so little attention is given to how people with dementia and family carers spend their free time. Societal preconceptions and expectations mean the notion of leisure time for people affected by dementia is seen as incredible and fanciful. As one speaker argued, leisure is where the structural context of inequality occurs and can be understood. Investigating the day-to-day interaction with leisure that people affected by dementia have is fundamental to my research. It is right to be able to enjoy what you choose to do in your spare time.

I presented my research paper, ‘Exploring the identity of people with dementia as they engage with the activities of community-based leisure and fitness centres. Implications for scholarship and practice’. It was a well-attended session, indicating the interest in the topic. There is a desire to understand the lived experience of dementia beyond the immediate contexts of care and health. I found the opportunity valuable, receiving suggestions on additional theoretical approaches, for example. It was also extremely useful to reflect on my research so far, and present key aspects of it to a discerning audience.

Other presentations provided insights to bolster my knowledge and scholarship. For example, Amanda Gard, a fellow PhD student, on exploring stigma in urinary incontinence in the physical activity environment. Her steer towards Goffman’s theory of stigma was particularly helpful. Later, it was interesting to hear Eilidh Macrae, from the University of the West of Scotland, present on ‘Changing lives through walking football’. Drawing on the sociology of Bourdieu she argued that social practice is simultaneously structured and structuring. Reflecting on this, and how participants in my research engage in physical activity in public, I noted how the attitudes of others towards them influence their experience, but also, by engaging publicly in physical activity how they will influence such attitudes. This fits well with the lens of social citizenship, which I am using to help me understand my findings. It is a status often denied to people affected by dementia, and promotes the abilities and aspirations people have.

On the second day Michael Hall, architect, presented on, ‘Designing for activity in the city, and the role of design in the built environment in encouraging physical activity’. I found this presentation fascinating as I have seen in my research how towns have transformed disused railways into accessible, public, green spaces, allowing people to dwell and engage with nature yards from the high street. The issue remains, though, that however wonderful the redesigned environment is, people still have to be able to get there! The value of affordable community transport cannot be understated.

Group of people going for a walk

As a learned academic society the LSA has close links with the Leisure Studies journal. The Conference included a session hosted by members of its editorial board offering advice on writing, reviewing and editing publications. This was of interest as I develop my own approach. For example, the advice on completing a good review was that it must be holistic, extending right across the article. It must also identify key literature that will add to the article’s quality. It must judge the paper on its merits, and constructively lead the author towards improvement.

The conference gave me the chance to meet and reacquaint myself with many colleagues with diverse expertise in leisure from all over the world. I have established relationships that will be helpful to the progression of my practice and scholarship. It is an enabling and constructive community and I am looking forward to playing my part within it.

Finally, the location of the conference, Dundee, was wonderful and fascinating. I would recommend visiting the city, which is steeped in history, and surrounded by stunning scenery. It also gave me opportunity to visit Kirrie Connectionsa Meeting Centre for people with dementia, located ten miles north of Dundee. The Association for Dementia Studies at the University of Worcester works closely with Kirrie Connections. When I visited, club members were enjoying their afternoon engaged in taking photographs of their local neighbourhood. That was a fabulous opportunity to reflect on my PhD, and what I had learned at the conference, as people with dementia enjoyed their leisure time in the Scottish sunshine.  

Members at Kirrie Connections taking photos of flowers in the garden
Members at Kirrie Connections
Graham Galloway and Chris Russell outside Kirrie Connections
Graham Galloway and Chris Russell outside Kirrie Connections

Connect with Chris on twitter @R1987Chris

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow

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