China / World

Ex-players team up to tackle dementia in soccer-mad Spain

(China Daily) Updated: 2018-02-27 07:21

MADRID - Eight senior citizens huddled around a table stare at a photo of a young Diego Maradona in a red and blue FC Barcelona jersey projected onto a screen at a Madrid retirement home.

Former Atletico Madrid defender Roberto Solozabal, a member of Spain's gold medal soccer squad at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, and ex-Valladolid right back Javier Torres pace the room as they gently coax the group to identify the Argentine legend.

"Great," says Torres, the sleeves of his gray sweater rolled up to his elbows, after one of the senior citizens correctly identifies Maradona, who played for Barcelona in the early 1980s.

Next he asks the group of five women and three men if they recall which foot the player used.

Prodding their memories like this is the aim of workshops held for residents suffering from or at risk of developing Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia at the private Ballesol Olavide retirement home.

Staff say the activity keeps their minds engaged.

Over the course of 12 weekly, two-hour sessions, ex-players use photos, programs and memorabilia from days gone by to stimulate the residents' memories and help them to recall episodes from their lives.

While the focus on soccer is novel, the approach it reflects - known as reminiscence therapy - is common in clinical practice for dementia.

Studies have found the therapy improves both cognitive function and quality of life by boosting self-esteem and fighting loneliness, which is common in care homes.

The Spanish Federation of Associations of Former Football Players the program in 2016 after hearing about a similar initiative in Scotland.

It believed the method could be well-suited to soccer-mad Spain, which has four daily newspapers dedicated to the sport.

"Football stirs extremely strong emotions, it is something a person remembers," says federation president, 77-year-old former Athletic Club defender Juan Maria Zorriqueta.

Workshop participants are encouraged to compile a scrapbook of the memories that they can recall.

"It helps me to not lose my mind. There are many people who don't know where they are and I feel sorry for those people," says Ricardo Marina Liceras, 87, a former truck driver, who has lived at the Ballesol Olavide retirement home for less than a year.

The soccer therapy has also helped bring him closer to other residents, he said.

Another resident was prompted to talk at length about having played football as a child.

Staff and family members report an improvement in the mood of the participants.

The retirement home's psychologist, Beatriz Gema Rodriguez Blazquez, says "it helps" that football is a topic "that they like and are passionate about".

"I see them much more motivated and really eager to work and remember," she says.

Agence France-presse

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