A new study from the University of the West of Scotland and Alzheimer Scotland has been exploring the benefits of walking football on men over 70 who are living with dementia. Walking football aims to keep people playing the game as long as possible by enforcing rules such as no running and low impact tackling only, This promotes cardiovascular fitness whilst producing the least stress on the body,

Conducted at Hampden Park, this first of its kind research found the activity had not only physical benefits for the participants but also a range of mental, social and emotional benefits too. Participants, many of whom had been keen players all their life, were able to reminisce over old memories but also to create new, tangible, emotional memories such as winning 'Player of the Day'. The study also noted the clear, positive effect of having a choice of football kit available, prompting increased engagement and conversations amongst the men. Kits were provided by teams including Rangers, Celtic, Queens Park and Patrick Thistle. 

In addition, it was found that the study offered good flexibility for the supporters and carers of the participants who could choose whether to stay and watch the game, socialise with other carers or spend the time elsewhere. This highlighted the importance of the carer respite that this and similar programmes can provide. 

Dr Eilidh Macrae, Lead Researcher for the project and Lecturer in the School of Health and Life Sciences at UWS, said:" Our research provides best practice guidelines for creating dementia-friendly walking football programmes, and guidance for those across the community working to make sports more accessible to people living with dementia. We hope to build on this research by working with community organisations and sports governing bodies directly"

Commenting on the study, Chris Kelly, Dementia Advisor at Alzheimer Scotland (and passionate footballer!) said: ““It was amazing being part of the project helping to make sure nobody faces dementia alone, and I am very grateful for the support from the team at UWS. At a very basic level people loved having the opportunity to get together with a group of friends for a ‘kick about’, but I also had people stating it had made their dreams come true playing for their team at Hampden. There was an incredible atmosphere around the place and the benefits were there for all to see.

People living with dementia are regularly faced with stigma, particularly around frailty and the need for protection. This report shows that with right support and good partnership working, people living with dementia can be included and participate in a wide range of services. Through working together on similar projects, we can help people live well with dementia. There are plans in place to start walking football elsewhere in Glasgow and Lanarkshire when national restrictions allow, I am really looking forward to seeing these develop with the help of this report”

Find out more in this short film below, or see the full report here