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The theory behind the therapy
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Sport can represent a powerful strand of memory and identity for many individuals, and a rich stream of shared cultural heritage. Reminiscence therapy involves stimulating people to talk about pleasant memories of past activities, events and experiences in order to help them better manage their symptoms, and to enhance their quality of life. In doing so, it can also improve the quality of life of their caregivers and family. For many people sports-reminiscence is very focused on specific sports, clubs, events and/or personalities.

Research into the effectiveness of reminiscence therapy reveals the importance of establishing an appealing environment in which people feel comfortable and confident enough to engage on a regular basis, citing that “people living with dementia often retain better access to memories and languages relating to their youth and early adult life than those of their more recent years. Participation in reminiscence groups can give a person with dementia a heightened sense of security, belonging, continuity, purpose, achievement and significance” (Clark et al, 2017).


Brinker (2013) notes the importance of running reminiscence therapy groups and one-on-one sessions built around positive personal narratives that inspire active participant engagement. The findings of Elias (2015) and Franck, Molyneux and Parkinson (2016) both complement this study, offering further evidence to illustrate the benefits of group-based reminiscence therapy in the treatment of older adults suffering from social isolation and depression. Similarly, Cammisuli, Danti, Bosinelli and Cipriani (2016) concluded that a person-centred approach to reminiscence therapy was able to enhance cognition and reduce depressive symptoms in people living with Alzheimer's disease.

Reminiscence therapists have found that it is possible to trigger memories through physical movement and through engaging the operational senses of dementia patients (i.e., what they see, hear, touch, taste and smell). The effectiveness of reminiscence therapy programs increases when the topics of conversation, types of language used and even the time-of-day correlates with the participants' more accessible and pleasant memories.

Clark et al (2015) acknowledge how sharing personal memories of past sporting experiences can not only better connect those living with dementia to their care staff or others, but also unite older adults who are, or are at risk of becoming, isolated, and other patterns of social bonding. Jameson-Allen (2016) concluded that men “reluctant to talk about health and emotions, may 'happily wax lyrical with anyone willing to listen about the merits of the beautiful game, muddy pitches, the smell of Winter Green and the taste of Bovril”.

Clark et al (2017) suggest that an hour-long conversation about a sport, team and time period of personal significance could be enough to leave someone suffering from dementia “with an awareness that something good has happened, with good feelings that last the rest of the day and boosted self-esteem that encourages more conversation with their families or carers, even if the reminiscence session itself is forgotten”. They concluded that even small improvements are valuable for people living with dementia, including the families and carers, especially when they occur as a result of an ongoing program capable of delivering those short-lived improvements for some years.

Sources of reference:

Michael Clark, Charlie Murphy, Tony Jameson-Allen and Chris Wilkins (2015) Sporting memories & the social inclusion
of older people experiencing mental health problems, Mental Health and Social Inclusion, Vol. 19, No. 4, pp. 202-211, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 2042-8308

Michael Clark, Charlie Murphy, Tony Jameson-Allen and Chris Wilkins (2016) Integrated working and inter-generational projects: A study of the use of sporting memories, Journal of Integrated Care, Vol. 24 No. 5/6, pp. 300-312 ©Emerald Group Publishing Limited ISSN 1476-9018 DOI 10.1108/JICA-10-2016-0039

Michael Clark, Charlie Murphy, Tony Jameson-Allen and Chris Wilkins (2017) Sporting memories, dementia care and training staff in care homes, The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 55-66, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1755-6228

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