Football to combat Alzheimer's

One of the football workshops to combat Alzheimer's at a home in Madrid.
One of the football workshops to combat Alzheimer's at a home in Madrid. / Virginia Carrasco
  • Several homes are using the beautiful game in workshops to awaken memories in patients who suffer from this degenerative illness

Football can be like a first love, the one which is never forgotten; a passion which arouses nostalgia. It is a sport which can have some surprising repercussions, and it is now proving an important tool for Alzheimer's sufferers.

It can't cure this degenerative dementia, but it does help to awaken memories and emotions, as can be seen from the 'Enriqueciendo la memoria a través del fútbol' (Enriching memory through football) project of the Spanish Federation of Associations of Veteran Footballers, FEAFV.

In these workshops which aim to boost memory, football is used to improve patients' quality of life and slow down the evolution of the illness.

Using photos of players, cuttings from sporting newspapers, commemorative items and videos of games, football serves to stimulate good memories with the aim of improving self-esteem and the state of mind of patients and their carers.

“We associate pictures of football with their private lives. Some end up in tears, full of happy memories,” says Javier Torres Gómez, national coach and former footballer, who works with the FEAFV.

He leads one of these non-pharmaceutical therapy programmes at the Ballesol Parque Almansa home in Madrid with other professionals such as clinical neuropsychologist Silvia Sánchez, who explains that the therapies “work on episodic and biographical memory, taking them back to those times. Something as trivial as football is used to work on very important cognitive abilities and to develop social skills between the patients.”

“When they see an image it helps them to associate it with a particular era and that is when the memories start to come. They even know whether it was a sunny day when they went to watch the football, and who they went with the first time. Some can even recall the lineups,” says Javier.

One good example of this is Doña José, who came to the workshop wearing two Atlético Madrid wristbands and who is happy to tell people she is nearly 90 years old. She can recite a lineup from memory, in this case Real Madrid, the team for whom her husband played when he was young. She remembers Bañón, Querejeta, Corona, Moleiro, Ipiña, Huete, Alsua, Barinaga, Belmar, Botella and Alonso, with no difficulty, and that was back in the 1940s and 1950s.

Much later came Gárate and Calleja, both forwards with Atlético Madrid in the early 1970s and favourites of Audeliano Castrillejo, one of the residents, who explains that these therapies have helped him to remember things he had forgotten , including the header scored by Marcelino which won Spain the European Cup in 1964.