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Japan, hosts of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, caused one of the sport's most memorable moments when they beat South Africa during the 2015 tournament in England © Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

Watching the Rugby World Cup could be a winning tactic for dementia patients

Published: 20th September, 2019 at 09:03
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Memorable sporting events prompt conversations and improve health, NHS England’s director for dementia said.

Watching re-runs of classic rugby matches could prove a tonic for older people, NHS England’s director for dementia has said.


Professor Alistair Burns, who is also the Professor of Old Age Psychiatry at The University of Manchester, said watching old classics could keep the brains of dementia patients active, stimulate memories and improve their mental health.

His comments come as the opening ceremony and first match of the 2019 Rugby World Cup kicks off, with nations across the globe competing to win the Webb Ellis Cup.

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Prof Burns said: “For people in old age and those living with dementia, memorable sporting events provide a connection with the past, prompt conversations and improve health.

“Watching classic games and reliving tense moments can stimulate powerful emotional memories which can be revived many years after the events and strengthen brain activity.

“Helping people live well into old age and manage with dementia are key parts of the NHS Long Term Plan and with the NHS diagnosing a record number of older people with dementia this year, it’s vital we all do what we can to keep our brain active and social networks alive.”

Jonny Wilkinson's 2003 World Cup-winning drop kick will be long remembered by England rugby fans © Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images
Jonny Wilkinson's 2003 World Cup-winning drop kick is one of England rugby fans' most memorable moments © Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

There are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK, with numbers set to rise to over a million by 2025.

Some 70 per cent of people in care homes have dementia or severe memory problems.

Tony Jameson-Allen, co-founder of Sporting Memories, which helps older people recall memories of watching or playing sport, said: “We’re delighted to see Professor Burns and NHS England covering this topic at the start of another major sporting event.

“As the tournament progresses, we hope families will enjoy watching the game together and take the chance to discuss favourite moments of previous Rugby World Cup tournaments.

“It’s a great chance for generations to get together to discuss the memorable moments global sporting events create.

“We hope it also inspires people to find out more about their local Sporting Memories club, either to attend, or to volunteer.”

What is dementia?

Some 850,000 people are estimated to be living with dementia in the UK, and that’s expected to rise to two million by 2050.

Dementia describes the symptoms that someone experiences as a result of a brain disease. Such symptoms can include memory loss, mood and behavioural changes, and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving and language. More than 100 diseases can cause dementia, each with slightly different symptoms.

The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer’s.

Discover more about dementia:

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “There will be many rugby fans glued to the TV watching their nations at the World Cup in the coming weeks and we hope the games will hopefully give us all something to be excited about.

“Sport means a lot to many people in our society and that doesn’t change as we age.

“Whether by getting more active, and we certainly recommend walking rugby by the way, or having the opportunity to connect with their community or reconnect with past passions, engaging in sports whether as participant or observer can do people no end of mental and physical good.”

Tamsin Fraser, head of community engagement at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Reminiscence is a really powerful tool, and recalling positive feelings that may otherwise be hidden away can engage a part of the brain that could help to restore personal identity.

“Whether you’re a fan of Wilkinson or Wozniacki, watching classic sporting matches is a great way to relive old memories and make new ones.”


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Alexander McNamaraOnline Editor, BBC Science Focus

Alexander is the former Online Editor at BBC Science Focus.


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