It is estimated that there are over 800,000 people living with dementia in the UK. Research shows that low impact exercise can be beneficial for physical and mental health and can improve the quality of life for people in all stages of dementia.
County Durham was a year one pilot area for the ASA’s Dementia Friendly Swimming which was launched in February 2015.
The project aimed to enhance the swimming experience of those living with dementia and their carers, targeting the pool environment while delivering low intensity exercise, relaxation sessions and structured motivational swimming lessons.
Sessions are currently being delivered in several pools across County Durham with specially trained staff to support those people living with dementia.
Dementia Friendly Swimming links extremely well with other work taking place in County Durham to create dementia friendly communities as part of the County Durham and Darlington Dementia Strategy.
The initiative is built upon a firm foundation of partnerships including, from Durham County Council, Culture and Sport, Public Health, Children and Adult Services and organisations such as the Alzheimer’s Society, who together have developed a joint steer on the project.
Following an initial period of consultation to gain an understanding of the many issues and barriers to swimming for people living with dementia and their carers, weekly supported swimming sessions were developed with additional changing room and in-pool support where required. Staff were trained through the Alzheimer’s ‘Step Inside’ programme, which enables participants to understand the unique ways that dementia affects people.
Outcomes and the Future
There have been 68 members of staff trained across five pools. In 2017 this will be further rolled to more staff out across all Durham County Council pools.
People living with dementia and their carers who have an interest in swimming would like to come along and enjoy the water like everyone else, but may just require a little extra help to do so.
Fred had been living with dementia for five years, with his wife Jean as his full time carer. They decided to attend Dementia Friendly Swimming at Teesdale Leisure Centre after hearing about it in Durham County Council’s summer guide booklet and in their local newspaper.
Fred had always enjoyed water and it made him feel relaxed, though Jean had never been a strong swimmer. However, with the one to one support in the water, Fred made a big improvement and is now swimming a bit on his own and Jean has also improved. They attend the weekly sessions and Fred has also joined the gym.
Jean describes the benefits: “It relaxes him, he’s happier and it makes a difference in his temper, not only while he is swimming but for the rest of the day. He also sleeps better after he has attended the sessions as they tire him out.”
Samuel Palombella, Operations Manager from the Alzheimer’s Society said: “We’re delighted that people with dementia, their carers and their loved ones will benefit from this dementia-friendly swimming project, which we are sure will be a huge success.”
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