With inputs from doctors, a sports magazine creates special editions to jolt memory of Alzheimer’s patients

On World Alzheimer’s Day, we recognize a cool initiative by a sports magazine to help combat dementia.

It might be a curious thing to see a group of patients with Alzheimer’s disease going through pages of a sports magazine. But beyond the curiosity element lies a story of merging medical research with the patients’ personal passion.
Football is helping many patients in Spain and elsewhere jolt their memory, thanks to a project called Futbol vs Alzheimer’s. It’s organized by the Madrid-based magazine Libero and the Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona.

Four special editions

The magazine had come out with four specially produced editions with cover stars Laszlo Kubala, Alfredo Di Stefano, Pele and Cruyff. Every issue has short articles that feature memorable matches and personalities from different decades. There are also exercises to help stimulate a patient’s memory.

There is one magazine for every age group of patients featuring content relevant to the 1940s, 50s, 60s and the 70s. The magazine worked with doctors to create the exercises for memory. The exercises are based on the ones the doctors use in real-world situations. However, in place of the usual objects/ subjects used in such exercises, here it is footballers.

For instance, a page in the 1970s magazine has faces of six former players. The patients are asked a simple question: who among the men have never played for Barcelona?

To make the project a reality, the researchers also considered the fact that the type of football fan who exists today is very different from the ones from a previous decade. For one, you didn’t have access to all the games then. Aside from global stars like Pele, the fans only saw their own team. And they are more prone to be connected to their own team.

The project which was made public last June has got an impressive response. It’s not meant to cure or provide long-term relief for patients. According to the publishers, while football won’t help them have their memory back, they can still recover their emotions.

Memories fade but the passion for football doesn’t
Even though memory fades, the passion for football doesn’t, as shown in the case of a 30 year old man who wrote to the magazine about his experience. According to him, his granddad couldn’t remember his name- which was hard for him to take. But if he played the anthem of the Atletico Madrid club, his grandfather could finish the verses. Though the family lacks means of communication with the patient, now they can share emotions, using football as a common point.
In the project’s next phase, people can create their own edition online. Choosing relevant photos, dates and details, they can download the magazine. Plans are also on the cards to make podcasts by which one can listen to commentaries from games in the 1950s for free.
The project hasn’t received any public funding and Libero is a small organization with limited resources. But anyone in the world can make a small donation online and also nominate the medical centre where they wish the special editions to be sent.
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