By Joyce Lee
For Joy Pott, sports is the common language she shares with her husband, Ron, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011.
The couple, who live in Malvern, PA, spend much of their time every day in front of the TV together, watching soccer matches, golf championships, and college basketball games. Far from being just an idle pastime, watching sports evokes fond memories for Mr. Pott, who had been a basketball star in high school and soccer MVP in college and was an avid golfer, skier, tennis player, and sports fan throughout his career as a corporate lawyer.
“He has no problem following the present, the game, giving his opinions, calling fouls, and calling referees stupid,” Mrs. Pott told The Philadelphia Inquirer. As her husband’s “TV color girl,” she often sits by his side, explaining what’s happening on TV and prompting him to unlock those hard-to-grasp memories.
What the Potts have stumbled upon is something that is gaining attention in the dementia field. In fact, watching and engaging with sports is becoming something much like a therapy, which healthcare professionals are only beginning to realize.
“People come alive,” said Tony Jameson-Allen, the director and co-founder of Sporting Memories Network, an initiative in the U.K. centered around this very idea that sports might be helpful for retrieving memories, in the article. “The images, the conversations, the memories, it all just helps trigger cognition.” Much of the therapy that uses reminiscing is aimed at older women, Jameson-Allen added, but sports might change that to include men too.
In the Pott household, watching sports like baseball on TV not only eases Mr. Pott’s anxiety but also makes his wife’s caregiving quite a bit easier. They have developed a routine around sports, she said. In the mornings, they read the sports section together. Weekday evenings, they watch baseball or basketball. On weekends, it’s tennis, golf, and football. The year ahead for them includes the Super Bowl, March Madness, the Masters Tournament, the French Open, and the Wimbledon.
“No one is going to help caregivers but themselves,” Mrs. Pott said. “They are not going to change. You have to do the changing. I have to find a way to live in what I call his biography world, with all his memories.”
Mrs. Pott said she was in part inspired by Bill Lyon, a former sports columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer who picked up his pen again to write about Alzheimer’s disease when he was diagnosed a few years back.
Mr. Lyon’s physician, Dr. Jason Karlawish of the Penn Memory Center, said that Mrs. Pott’s caregiving should be a lesson for everyone.
“What you’re witnessing is an upending of the notion that there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all set of activities for people with dementia. But this shows that if you really want to take care of patients with dignity and quality of life, you need to pay attention to the individual as an individual.”
For the full article in the Inquirer, click here.