Championing Physical Activity for People Affected by Dementia

This week we hand over to Dr Chris Russell who reflects on our online course ‘Championing Physical Activity for People Affected by Dementia’. Over to you Chris…

People affected by dementia (individuals living with dementia and also members of their family and close friends) want to continue doing things they have always enjoyed. Why would this not be the case? I know, because of research that we have completed here at the Association for Dementia Studies. This has explored activities that people can participate in perhaps for interest, for a sense of fun, or purpose, encapsulated by the term ‘leisure’. Such things contribute to making us who we are; they are part of everyday life.

Leisure includes activities as diverse as painting and listening to heavy metal music, with everything in between (and extending out on both sides!). It forms part of the jigsaw of everyday life. What one person enjoys might not be the preference of the next, but there should be something there for everyone. Taking part in physical activity is an aspect of this jigsaw, and physical activity is brimming with diversity too as it can include going for a walk, dancing, playing table tennis, going to the gym etc. It might not be every person’s first preference (although for many it is in one shape or form), but when one considers just how varied these activities can be, it is a feature of most of our lives.

Our research also highlighted that there are many people and services wishing to offer opportunity for people affected by dementia to take part in physical activity, but who often lack the skills and confidence to do so. There are already fantastic examples of good practice happening in leisure centres, sports clubs, community settings, care homes and hospitals, but there are plenty of others keen to contribute, who currently hesitate.

This was the background to the design and delivery of ‘Championing Physical Activity for People Affected by Dementia’, an online course extending over eight weeks, whose aim is to meet that need – to offer learners the knowledge and confidence to provide physical activity for people affected by dementia. The programme, generously supported through its development phases by both the Leisure Studies Association and Active Herefordshire and Worcestershire, has reached an exciting stage. Following a successful pilot earlier this year the second ever run of the course has just concluded, with arrangements in place to offer it for the first time to learners recruited by an active partnership, i.e. a charitable organisation responsible for supporting grassroots physical activity across a whole city or county in England.  

At such a moment it is timely to reflect on some of the learning from the most recent run of the course:

  • There is interest in offering physical activity to people affected by dementia as a leisure choice. Over the last few weeks, for example, we have worked with learners from close by in Worcestershire and Herefordshire, but it has also been a great pleasure to welcome colleagues from London, Ireland, Scotland, the USA, the Czech Republic and Germany, providing support or care in settings including hospital wards and care homes, and the wider community. We were also delighted to welcome a colleague facilitating walks in the highlands of Scotland, and another offering Irish Dancing adapted for people affected by dementia.
  • The group of learners, coming from such diverse work or voluntary settings, provided a positive foundation for the programme which enabled the tutors to weave in theory and practice from dementia, physical activity and leisure contexts. As the course progressed these worked in combination to provide each learner with unique and valuable insights to incorporate in their own practice.   
  • The range and nature of the physical activity offered by the learners, in the myriad of settings where they operate, highlights that there remains uncertainty about just what ‘facilitation of physical activity’ means, and what might be ‘best practice’.        
  • A community of learning was fostered by participation, which extended beyond the course itself. For example, contact details were shared, and learners put each other in touch with further opportunities for professional development. This included attendance by several of them on Age Scotland’s online Body Boosting Bingo, which proved very popular!        

So, we have gathered plenty of learning ourselves on what works well and what could be fine-tuned as we move into the next phase of ‘Championing Physical Activity for People Affected by Dementia’. It is a great pleasure to be able to work with people committed to supporting people affected by dementia live lives of quality, in particular with regards to activities and interests that individuals wish to uphold and progress. The new year signals exciting times ahead.

If you would like to find out more about the course, please see our flyer and get in touch with us using the details provided on it. You may also be interested in a poster about the pilot course that we developed for the recent UK Dementia Congress.

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


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