Swimming helps Derbyshire group ‘live well’ with dementia

This Dementia Action Week, we’re putting a spotlight on Swim England’s Dementia Friendly Swimming project, which continues to provide mental and physical benefits for people across the country.

Dementia made swimming an arduous task for Peter Scott.

He grew frustrated as he tried to swim lanes, unable to cope with the noise and others impeding his path.

Seeking a safe and serene space, without fear of judgement from those who couldn’t understand his needs, Peter joined the Dementia Friendly Swimming programme at Ripley Leisure Centre, in Derbyshire.

Every Wednesday afternoon, the pool is closed to the public as Peter and a group of people living with dementia – and some carers – enjoy the freedom of exercising in the pool, under the guidance of instructor Jerry Marler.

Peter said: “This is ideal. I can swim safely, because I know there is someone looking after us, Jerry.

“I’ve got my own lane now, so I can swim without being impeded at all. It’s just enjoyable. It’s keeping us fit and we meet other people who have got similar conditions.

“This was very important for me, otherwise I wouldn’t be ‘swimming at all. The environment that it is, is a life saver for me. I’m not suffering from dementia, I’m living well with dementia.”

The sessions are relaxed as everyone moves at their own pace, occasionally stopping for a chat before resuming their swim.

There are no records being broken at Ripley Leisure Centre, just a group of people with common circumstances improving their mental and physical health without stress.

More than just a swim

While the project places particular emphasis on improving the lives of people living with dementia, its impact is just as significant for their carers.

Husbands, wives and family members sit in the centre’s lobby during the hour-long session.

Lynne Scott, wife of Peter, said: “Those that don’t swim, we support each other. If we’ve had a bad week, we can have a whinge. It’s just progress and it’s brilliant.”

Chris Hill initially went to the Dementia Friendly Swimming sessions to support his wife, Carol, but he now sees an extra benefit of going along.

“I used to not go in the pool, I used to sit and chat,” Chris said. “Then the physiotherapist said ‘it will help your back and your knees if you go in the pool and just float’.

“I don’t like swimming very much, but I can go in and just float. It helps my knees and it helps my back.

“Carol is very happy because I can swim with her. She’s been nagging me for ages to go and swim with her, so now she is happy.”

Like many who visit Ripley Leisure Centre each week, Carol has a philosophical approach about living with dementia.

She said: “I’m not letting it beat me. I had a fit, but I can still live and get on with life.

“If I can help other people, then I’m not giving up. Don’t give up, that’s what I say.”

This group has formed a close bond, evident when they sit around a table after the session for a tea, biscuit and a chat.

It’s clear the social benefits bring plenty of joy to all involved.

Swimming at Ripley Leisure Centre

A dementia friendly centre

Although Ripley Leisure Centre was close to being dementia friendly naturally, they made a few simple tweaks that now ensure those living with dementia can enjoy a smooth experience.

The Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friendly logo appears on signs throughout the pool area to serve as reminders for participants.

The fonts and colours used on dementia-related information has been changed to make it easier to read and Swim England locker saddles help make the changing rooms more accessible.

Jenny Hedgecock, the centre’s General Manager, has seen the programme grow in popularity over the last three years.

“Trust has been gained from the husbands and wives whose partners are living with dementia,” she said.

“Our confidence has grown. The team are very customer focused and if we can help people to enjoy an activity, that’s what we’re passionate about.

“Seeing these guys come in and remember how to swim is just lovely. It’s relaxing. When you speak to participants, they tell you about the benefits. It’s just part of our weekly activities.

“It was partly intimidating to begin with, but once we got to know the guys and they got to know us, the word spread and we rolled it out last year to our sister site – the William Gregg VC Leisure Centre in Heanor.

“We’ve listened to the participants and learnt a lot from them. We made some changes and we’ve got their trust now. They know it’s a friendly, safe environment and we will try our utmost to make their time here enjoyable.”

To find out more about how to make your community dementia friendly, visit the Alzheimer’s Society website.