Date Published: 30 May 2018

Benefits of dementia friendly swimming opportunities

Recent research into the ways in which regular swimming can affect the lives of people with dementia and also the experience of their carers has identified many different benefits of the swimming sessions through structured interviews with participants in special 'dementia friendly' swimming groups in Nottingham, England.

The study was conducted and reported by a team based at Nottingham University who also investigated how swimming sessions at public pools can be adapted in order to be more 'dementia friendly' 1,2.

The interviews were designed to find out about the experiences of participants in the sessions who had been diagnosed with dementia and about the experiences of the people who look after them. The researchers also interviewed six members of staff at the leisure centre where the sessions took place in order to discover and document their experiences and ideas about best practice in swimming for dementia patients. It has been reported1 that the swimming instructors who talked with the researchers showed empathy and insight into the struggles faced by people with dementia, which enabled them to adapt the sessions appropriately. For example one instructor said that "You can't hurry anything and I think you just have to be very flexible in your approach."

The responses from all participants including both the people with dementia, and their carers, was completely positive. One participant in the sessions who had been diagnosed with dementia enthused that "It's been absolutely brilliant!"

Some specific benefits that emerged from the research include boosting the confidence of some people (incl. an example of a dementia patient who was a strong swimmer and appreciated the opportunity to encourage others with their swimming) and helping to calm some people down by providing a positive outlet for energy that might otherwise by used pacing rooms for long periods of time.

Researcher Mary Swallow, one of the lead authors of the paper2 published as a result of the work said:

" This was an amazing opportunity to gain insight into the lives of people with dementia and their families which showed us how the simplest of activities can make such a difference."

Another researcher, Professor of Dementia Research, Tom Dening, explained further:

" Our study suggests there is huge potential for these specially organised swimming sessions to improve the quality of life of people with dementia and their carers. We already know that other forms of exercise are physically beneficial to this group of people, but swimming in particular can improve fitness with less strain on joints compared to land-based exercise. Our study allowed us to examine the personal experiences of those people with dementia who were able to tell us how they felt about the swimming sessions. They were overwhelmingly positive as were the comments from their relatives and carers.
_ Swimming sessions reduced the sense of responsibility felt by carers, providing them with their own support network and the opportunity to have a break from caring, in the company of others in similar circumstances. The swimming itself was enjoyable for everyone and provided people with dementia the chance to exercise as well as giving them confidence and empowering them
."

Overall the study found that for most participants meeting people in a similar situation as themselves was one of the most important benefits of the sessions. An exception was one carer who did not want to socialise with other carers because she valued a break from the dementia carer environment. For most participants, the opportunity to have a regular event on the calendar and chance to get out of the home environment was also valued.

This article is based on research conducted by staff at Nottingham University (England) and the Institute of Mental Health. It was conducted with the help of the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA), Swim England3, the Alzheimer's Society4 and a group of people who attend dementia friendly swimming sessions at Clifton Leisure Centre in Nottingham.

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