Sports and reminiscence: The rationale and evidence for its use to build social connections for older people
Michael Clark | PSSRU, London School of Economics and Political Science
Background and objective: Sports represent a powerful strand of memory and identity for many individuals, and a rich stream of shared cultural heritage. Sports-based reminiscence aims to draw upon this resource to connect people and to address some needs amongst (usually) older people. This may be connecting people living with dementia to their care staff or others, or bringing together older people who are, or are at risk of becoming, isolated, and other patterns of social bonding. The intention is that this can help to address some of the challenges societies face from dementia and from issues of loneliness and isolation amongst growing populations of older people. This paper will discuss lessons from experiences of using sporting memories in this way and sets out some implications for policy and further research in this area.
Data and methods: Initially we examine the rationale for sport-based reminiscence in various contexts. We proceed to discuss the evidence of its use in practice. Sporting memories has operated in many contexts, including care homes, community-based dementia services and in sports clubs. We draw on a range of evidence collected from these contexts using questionnaires, participant observation and interviews.
Results: We identify different forms of using sporting reminiscence to suit diverse contexts and needs, and for different ends. These include variations on more formal approaches to group work and to one-to-one work, and an ad hoc mode. We discuss the experiences of those trained in using the approach and their perceptions of its power. For many people sports-reminiscence is very focused on specific sports, clubs, events and/or personalities. It has the power, however, to transcend this and become a means of engaging in discussion about wider social and family history and, thereby, engage with and connect a larger network of older people.
Policy implications: Sports-based reminiscence represents an approach to engaging with people that is very flexible (it can be used in many ways and in diverse contexts) and highly personal (it draws on some of their key memories and identity). It has the power to connect people and thereby address some of the challenges societies face from ageing population profiles. The flexibility of sports reminiscence means that there is a need to take care in being clear as to the modes of engagement and desired outcomes being used in any specific project/setting. There are still research questions that need to be addressed in order to more fully develop the evidence-base to guide practice.