26 November 2015

Football fans with dementia - why reminiscence can be a beautiful thing

by Helena Gray | Guest Contributor

I have been working in dementia care for five years now.

Within this I’m going to talk about some of the Rangers fans I’ve met along the way and the memories they’ve shared with me. It wasn’t until the last three years that I started taking an interest in reminiscence and there’s so much to say about it - I could go on for days but today I’d like to focus on football fans.

Three years ago, working in a care home in Possilpark, I met Billy - a lifelong Rangers fan who also had an interest in junior football. He was a resident of the care home and had dementia. Originally from the southside of Glasgow he found himself in our care after his diagnosis. 

I was a care assistant at the time so there wasn’t always time to sit and talk about his memories but when I got a chance to, the things he came away with were fascinating. I’m sure everyone reading this is no stranger to the term “AMF” - Against Modern Football. The older generation are the one’s who really did have every other Saturday as their half day off and stood on the terraces watching their team play.
Some time later I started working in a home in Yoker. I met a lovely gent with dementia called Jim, he struggled with sentence structure because of his diagnosis however I could always see such passion in his eyes when he talked about Rangers. 

He had so many books and once sat down with me and talked me through players from as far back as the War era. Seeing a glint in his eye and him talking about not just football but his travels with the Navy all over the world and spending time with his family, growing up in Glasgow. 

It’s in Yoker that I fell in love with reminiscence and became an activities co-ordinator. With the help of other members of staff’s memorabilia I was able to put together memory books and football packs for people to use with the residents for reminiscing, watching people talking about their memories and seeing a picture and saying “I remember that player”. 

Jim also loved talking about Barcelona in 1972, as a Rangers fan myself hearing personal accounts from people who were there was fascinating. As you can imagine, my job satisfaction was at an all time high at this point.

Later on I moved into support work and applied for college. I studied my HNC in Social Care while working as a support worker for Alzheimer Scotland in North Lanarkshire - a role I am still involved in and absolutely love. I based my graded unit on reminiscence therapy and made a memory book with a lady. Sadly, she passed away a few months ago but I heard how she took her book around to people and showed everyone what we made together. 

This really confirms to me that the work I did with her was so valuable and I made an impact on her life. I like to think of people with dementia as person first, diagnosis second - yes, a diagnosis of dementia does affect their life in a million and one ways but there are so many ways that people are able to roll back the years and take a trip down memory lane.

After making this memory book I decided I wanted to do more than support work. I got involved in my local dementia reminiscence group Remember Well at Fir Park. I’ve met several fascinating, incredible individuals in the short time I’ve volunteered from attendees to volunteers, the project manager and all of the other great staff at Fir Park. 

I’ve certainly made friends for life. Most weeks we get around ten gents with dementia attending, two days a week for a couple of hours. We like to sit and talk about recent events as well as past times. Sitting talking to these guys about how the football was in their day, standing on the terraces, reminiscing about being absolutely freezing and watching your team lose or talk about the “golden years” of when their teams were great. 

Recently, we took a trip to Hampden Park's football museum - if you get the chance to go I highly recommend it, there are loads of things to do with Rangers in there. Below is a picture of Richard, an attendee of Remember Well and lifelong Rangers fan. I haven’t known him for very long but what I can tell you is that sitting with him, showing him old pictures of Johnny Hubbard, Jim Baxter and Sandy Jardine, he can talk to me about them - the positions they played in, how good they were.

He also reminisces about standing on the terraces at Ibrox. Recently he said to me: “there was a time when you couldn’t get me away from Ibrox.” Seeing such passion in his eyes when talking about his time following Rangers really makes my role even more worthwhile. I have to say it’s not just people with dementia that struggle with the diagnosis, it’s their partners too. 

Richard's wife told me that it’s so wonderful when she sees her husband remember things and have conversations and it really confirms to me that I wouldn’t change what I do for the world. Providing much needed respite for family members, giving people so much joy even for just a few hours a week. It really is incredible and has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion.

I’d also like to stress that reminiscence isn’t just for football fans, there are loads of things available all over Scotland and please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me or your local dementia resource centre. If you know someone in North Lanarkshire with dementia that you think would like to attend a Remember Well session, or if you’d like to volunteer then please see below with how to contact us.

If you’d like to know more about the Remember Well project please feel free to visit www.rememberwell.co.uk or search Remember Well on Facebook

Tweet us: @_weedimples or @RememberWell

Email us: helena.gray@outlook.com or matthew.connelly@motherwellfc.co.uk