Football fights Alzheimer with Memories

May 4, 2020

Football Stories

In Football Memories, elderly people living with Alzheimer get an opportunity to meet one other and engage with their shared heritage in a positive way.

When football enthusiasts gather there is a noticeable connection. They might ask each other which teams they support, and without too much time lost, find themselves recalling stories of players, games and results. Their fanhood has somehow installed a couple of additional hard drives of memory, and the conversations only keep on adding the anecdotes and viewpoints. But how can this drive for encyclopedic knowledge be used for social health benefits?

Enter the project “Football Memories”, introduced in The Netherlands by Arjen Pijfers at the professional football club Willem II. In this project, senior residents in town are invited to the club’s stadium where a process of memory stimulation, conversation facilitation and healthy social engagement is conducted. In the coming year the project is set to travel to other clubs in The Netherlands, and possibly beyond! Football Makes History talked to Mr Pijfers to find out more about this approach and findings.

In this post:


Willem II Football Memories (photo: Toin Damen).

Willem II Football Memories (Photo: Toin Damen).

Bringing the concept from Scotland

Arjen Pijfers is a volunteer at the Willem II football club. The project started to take shape at the end of 2018. For inspiration Mr. Pijfers visited the Scottish club the Heart of Midlothian. In Scotland there were (and still are) several Football Memories projects under way. The project in the Netherlands started in November 2018. A pilot was launched consisting of 6 sessions. The success of this pilot was evident and since then Football Memories became a real thing. The elderly participants meet every two weeks in the King Willem II stadium where they and volunteers reminisce about the rich football past of Willem II. Each session lasts 90 minutes with a 15 minute tea break, just like a real football game. Unfortunately, for many participants social interactions like these are no longer obvious.

Dealing with health issues

The project focuses primarily on older people who are struggling with loneliness, social isolation and / or (starting) dementia, people who are at risk of losing the connection with society. The emphasis is on what older people can still do: dig up memories and stories from a memory that sometimes troubles them in daily practices. During a session items (objects, news clippings, etc) related to the ‘glorious’ history of Willem II are being selected and talked about, kept by the clubs own archivist. Also, former and current players come to sessions to tell something about their time at the club. The response is generally very positive, both from the participants and the caretakers.

But what is about football that makes it so suitable for such a cause? According to Mr. Pijfers there are two important elements. First has to do with passion and the emotion generated by the beautiful game. During childhood and adolescence the passion for the game is forming and growing exponentially. The experience is then enormous. In this period the foundation is laid for what you can recall and activate at a later age. The second element has to do with the social aspect of football. To quote Mr. Pijfers

then football is something that very easily connects people.

Football memories thus, creates an environment for the elderly where they can make new connections that they would otherwise no longer be able to make. The project gives them a reason to leave the house, connect with people and most important talk football.

National recognition

For thirty years, Denkbeeld, a professional magazine about dementia, has been informing professionals and other stakeholders about new developments in dementia care. The Denkbeeld Dementia care prize is intended to provide a platform for projects or initiatives that contribute to a better quality of life for people with dementia and their caregivers. Football Memories is a wonderful example of the connecting role that football can play in society and for the elderly in particular. That is why in 2019 Willem II has been awarded with this Denkbeeldprijs. They introduced Football memories in the Netherlands in 2018. It quickly grew into a permanent part of Willem II’s commitment to connect football and society. The award of the Denkbeeldprijs shows that the club also manages to score in the social field. Recognition in national media followed as well.

In the Netherlands there are now 4 clubs that are actively setting up similar activities (VVV venlo, ADO Den Haag, FC Utrecht and Vitesse). The positive impact that Football memories continues to have in Tilburg has Mr. Pijfers convinced that it has the potential to become a large national project, with different interpretations for each region. A network where thousands could eventually participate in the program and experience the same positive impacts. Football is a way to connect and bring people together, even when it seems too difficult, football finds a way.

And during the current corona-crisis, the participants and the club have continued to try to come together, but – sadly – Football Memories is much missed.

Willem II Football Memories (photo: Willem II Betrokken)

Willem II Football Memories (Photo: Toin Damen).

Find more

Below you can find some additional resources:

On the website of the Scotting Football Museum, you can find out more information about this approach.

Check out this article on the Football Memories project in Tilburg (Dutch-language) or look up this research paper on the adaptation of this approach in the United States with Baseball.

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Football fights Alzheimer with Memories

Football Memories creates an environment for elderly suffering from dementia and Alzheimer to make new connections that they would otherwise no longer be able to make. The project gives them a reason to leave the house, connect with people and most important talk football.

Article Tags:   aging  |   football  |   health  |   inclusion  |   memories

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