Guest blog by Danny Walsh & Carol Duff
Danny Walsh is senior lecturer in nursing and Carol Duff is senior lecturer and consultant
occupational therapist, both at the University of Lincoln.
It is well known that physical exercise is good for people with dementia, but it
is not often that golf is considered as an option. Golf Days Out is a refreshing exception. It is a social enterprise that uses a local golf course to offer meaningful activity and respite both for people with dementia and their carers.
The vision of a care worker with an enthusiasm for golf, Anthony Blackburn, Golf Days
Out generates a sense of camaraderie with its unique blend of physical activity, the
outdoors and cognitive and social stimulation. Alongside the freedom and fresh air of
the golf course comes the chance to practise cognitive skills like judging distances
and how hard to hit the ball as well as keeping your tally.
Golf courses are invariably beautiful and peaceful places and the venture ties in with
current thinking in mental health about the value of outdoor activity and ‘ecotherapy’ for relaxation, boosting self-esteem and fighting depression and anxiety (Mind 2015).
Golf also offers the opportunity to use and maintain social skills, form new friendships and keep in touch with a sporting passion.
For Golf Days Out, dementia friends training is given to interested local golfers who
then become “golfing buddies” to people living with dementia. They then go on to
play a full nine holes and have team competitions for trophies in which all can participate.
The driving range and putting green are also put to good use. No previous golfing experience is necessary and all levels help each other out. At the same time carers have been encouraged to become a support group with little prompting from us, so this weekly venture provides two social care functions at the same time. Initial evaluations have been positive, highlighting the value attached to taking part, the friendly banter and the sense of togetherness.
Clients were referred by the local Alzheimer’s Society and Age UK. Qualitative evaluations used a modified version of the DEMQUAL tool, which is an accepted quality of life measure for people living with dementia and their carers developed by the Institute of Psychiatry at
King’s College London. To start with short interviews based on the DEMQUAL scalewere used, but a full quantitative assessment will take place in the near future. The first qualitative feedback gives a picture of positive attitudes among those taking part, including comments about being able to carry on with a pastime they love and the camaraderie it generates.
Here is what golfers with dementia told us:
“I love the company and the banter – I’ve had an awful game of golf today but it didn’t matter. It’s being outside in the fresh air and being able to participate. Keeping up with the golf is tremendous – still being able to do it. I find speaking hard from the illness – I can’t get the words – so this is important as I practise my talking – and here it doesn’t matter, we are all similar”
“Camaraderie – the golf gets me to do things for other people – it’s a great thing – we help each other – it keeps me going”
“There’s a real sense of community here and it’s physical, the golf ….. good for you.
It helps my wife – it gives her time of her own – a good break – I’ve won a couple of trophies – it all has the purpose of making you feel better”
Carers were just as approving, giving strongly positive comments about
seeing their partners being able to continue the golf and remaining active with an
enhanced sense of purpose. They also benefited from the respite the venture provides.
Here is what carers told us:
“He wasn’t a golfer but now he rarely misses a shot and absolutely enjoys it… It’s the
only time he comes out.”
“He was so excited after the first session that he’d be able to play again. It’s nice to see him doing what he loved to do”
“I can’t get him to a day centre but I can’t stop him coming here. We (the other wives) meet up for a chat and a coffee. We’ve made new friends and we meet up outside too.”
“It allows me to be at work – I am not worried about him being here. I’m very reluctant to let him go to a lot of places but I am confident when he is here – I don’t worry.”
“It’s good here, he’s got early onset and there’s nothing for younger ones but he’s helped to fit in and he helps the others. It gives him his own social life.”
“He says ‘it’s my thing’ where he feels he’s not reliant on other people so gives him a sense of independence rather than illness.”
“The best way of describing it is that it makes him buoyant, he lights up when he comes here, it brings him alive again. He also has Parkinson’s and when he putts he’s not shaking so much. He always remembers the golf whereas he doesn’t remember other things. This gives him an enormous sense of pride. He will polish his golf clubs and look after his golf shoes. It gives him a sense of purpose. They help each other on the golf course so you have this chap with dementia helping another chap with dementia… they know how each other feels.
He’s happier and he’s more relaxed so I am more relaxed. It’s priceless from my point of view to see him happy and doing something as he was always so active. To see the look on his face, when he did play golf again, was an experience that will stay with me for a long time.”
These qualitative responses are significant enough to support a full quantitative
research investigation, which should provide the necessary evidence to persuade
commissioners of dementia support that this is worth investing in. As people who
have worked in dementia care for many years we can see the venture significantly helping
people maintain their capabilities while having fun at the same time.
We are piloting the scheme at the Lincoln Golf Centre whose management and members have wholeheartedly embraced the concept and cannot do enough to support it. Indeed, many members know someone with dementia among their own families and friends. The idea also has the support of the national golfing body England Golf and it is hoped to roll it out to other golf courses and embrace other medical conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease where we have already seen some remarkable effects on reducing tremors.
Leisure activities combining physical activity, cognitive stimulation and social skills are
known to contribute to successful ageing (Baltes & Baltes 1990; Fischer 1995).
These studies cite biological health, mental health, cognitive efficiency, social competence
and productivity, personal growth and control, life satisfaction, interaction with others and sense of purpose as key elements of a ‘successful’ old age. Golf Days Out combines all these aspects while also providing a valuable respite break for carers.
Baltes PB & Baltes MM (1990) Psychological perspectives on successful ageing: The model of selective optimization with compensation. In PB Baltes and MM Baltes (Eds) Successful
Ageing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fisher BJ (1995) Successful Ageing, life satisfaction and generativity in later life. International Journal of Aging and Human Development 41 239-250.
Mind (2015) Making sense of ecotherapy. London: Mind.