DMU historians join campaign to reawaken sporting memories and tackle dementia

Sports historians and scientists from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) are joining forces with a national charity to help reawaken sporting memories in older people to tackle dementia, depression and loneliness.

MEMORIES: Prof Martin Polley and Tony Jameson-Allen (centre) with CIES MA students Meskereme Goshime, Daniele Diana, Adrienne Lerner, Aline Soares Rodrigues, Harjass Singh, Ulisses Bresciani and Primrose MHunduru

The Sporting Memories Network (SMN) was established to promote the use of these memories to improve the well-being of older people.

Playing or watching sport brings people together, whether as a close-knit community or an entire nation. But the pioneering work of the SMN has shown that sport, like music, can unlock memory.

Now charity co-founder Tony Jameson-Allen, a former psychiatric nurse and a sports fanatic, has started a project with Professor Martin Polley, director of DMU’s International Centre for Sports History and Culture, and Chris Knifton, Senior Lecturer in Dementia and Admiral Nurse in DMU’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences.

The group plans to use their expertise to contribute to the charity’s work and eventually establish a group in Leicester to discuss sports history and fully analyse the effects of sporting memories on the well-being of older people.

The charity already has a host of famous supporters who have recorded their sporting memories, which people can access to reawaken reminiscences in loved ones.

They include Ryder Cup-winning golf captain Sam Torrance, F1 presenter Suzi Perry, legendary rower Sir Steve Redgrave, World and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Liz McColgan and AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson, a sports enthusiast whose former bandmate Malcolm Young has dementia.

It has also received support from football teams Queens Park Rangers, Manchester City and Newcastle United. Tony, of SMN, said: “It is incredibly exciting to form a partnership with a sports history centre which has such widespread international acclaim.

“Martin and his colleagues will contribute so much. Our charity is all about keeping people connected. Sport is much more than playing or watching. You’re part of a community, a clan, a culture. This leaves powerful memories and by sharing them it provides a simple conduit for people to reawaken their passions.

“There are around 800,000 people in the UK living with dementia and about 35 million globally. There are five million people in the UK over the age of 75 who live alone and one million of them see TV as their only form of company. 40 per cent of people living in care suffer from depression which will go untreated.

“We are facing a huge challenge. People are living longer and yet the narrative through some politicians and the media appears to be that they are a burden.  The memories and achievements of older people should be something we celebrate.

“The legacy of great sporting moments is to inspire a new generation. Let’s celebrate the people who were involved at the time. This charity has an effect on lots of people’s lives because it is rewarding and fun.”

Professor Polley, who has become an advisor to the charity after first meeting Tony in 2012, said: “The SMN approach is powerful and yet so simple that I had to get involved. Tony now comes along and gives talks to our students and that has become a permanent feature of our courses.

“Now, I have secured internal DMU funding along with Chris Knifton to take this further. We will hold a series of workshops with mental health groups, social care groups and our history academics to gather ideas and eventually we want a sporting memories group here in Leicester. Our academics in HLS and the ICSHC can then record what effect that group has on older people.

“The great thing about this is we have a group of academics here in the ICSHC who look at history in a number of different ways. To approach history as a social science is going to be really enjoyable for all involved.”

Tony came to DMU this week to talk to the students on the prestigious CIES International MA in Management, Law and Humanities of Sport about the charity’s work in a session organised by James Panter from the ICSHC. The students said they were impressed and moved by the work, and a number of them plan to help the SMN widen its reach in future.