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Dementia friendly swimming: a correspondence by email

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approaches to dementia care, exercise

Dear Tom,

My Colleague, and Director of Dementia Services for my company, Juliet Holt Klinger, contacted me today with a link to your article on Swimming and Patients who have a Diagnosis of Dementia (click here to see the article: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29600876). I am currently a Recreational Therapist that works with patients with dementia and have one specific patient that is in the early moderate stage and has been asking about going swimming. I am very interested in reading what your research discovered, I can only find abstracts of the research on the internet. Do you have any suggestions on where to look or reach out to, to find places in the States that offer swimming to Patients living with Dementia. Or do you have any suggestions on what to ask of places with pools to gain access to leading a swimming session for this person myself?

Thank you in advance for your time and Knowledge.


Elizabeth Kozlowski, CTRS


Dear Elizabeth

Thank you for your enquiry. I have attached a copy of our paper so that you can read it in full if you wish:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29600876

I am sorry but I don’t know anything about any dementia friendly swimming initiatives in the US. I would be surprised if there isn’t somebody thinking about it somewhere though. You could ask the Alzheimer’s Association if they have any information or any plans in this regard.

Our project teamed up with a national initiative that was being delivered through local authorities and public swimming pools, though none of these things would be necessary. It would be entirely possible to set up dementia friendly swimming with a private facility or leisure club. What we did find though was the thing that made the biggest difference was having someone who was really committed to the project and also had the skills to persuade people with dementia and their carers to come along. This was Kris, the Alzheimer’s Society worker. She was brilliant. Before she came on the scene, we had everything else – nice pools, dedicated sessional time – but no people with dementia in the water. I also think the fact we had two student researchers (Mary and Tanya) doing their project and therefore there was interest from the University also helped.

Comparing swimming to other leisure activities that we have researched, I would say that there is a higher threshold to cross before people will join in. Therefore it takes a real push and some commitment to get started and also to keep going. So, you probably need a real ally at the pool (maybe someone who has a close relative with dementia), someone to encourage participants to attend and to get into the water, dedicated time and space in the pool, and somewhere to hang out as a group afterwards (for English people, that is tea and cake in the pool’s café). The session needs to run weekly and regularly without too many gaps. Thought needs to be given to how people will get to and from the pool. There probably needs to be a higher proportion of helpers to participants than in a normal group, though this would be so for any group of people living with disabilities.

That’s about as much as I know!  

Best wishes


Tom Dening

Professor of Dementia Research

Institute of Mental Health

University of Nottingham

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