Golfers Never Lose Their Swing – Even Those With Memory Loss

Anyone who is an avid golfer knows the importance of mastering his or her swing. If you watched the pros at the recent Masters Tournament, or any golfer at your local public course, you can see the detail and precision in preparing to hit that little ball with the head of a club. The swing is the thing. Ask any golfer and they’ll express their frustration, as well as their love for the game, in the same breath.

Being a caregiver for someone with Alzheimers carries its own share of frustration and love, as well as fear and loss experienced by those who suffer from the effects. Their inability to perform basic activities that used to be second nature, strips away self-confidence and joy. I have been fortunate enough to have the experience to witness the unique power the game of golf has on these individuals

I recently read an insightful article by Matthew Futterman, in the The Wall Street Journal. It was about the game of golf, and the staying power that the golf swing has on the human mind. Aegis of Bothell’s Executive Director, Karl Miller, and I recently set out to experience this in our own community. Karl, an avid golfer, created a putting course that would accommodate all levels of skill and mobility. His course is complete with the sounds of nature. Waterfalls and chirping birds produce a sense of the outdoors, and the peacefulness of the course.

One by one, the residents stepped up to try their hand, past players and non-players alike. As Monty, who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and a former golfer, stepped up, she took the club and went through her ritual of getting ready for the shot. She repositioned her legs and feet, eyed the ball and the hole, took a couple practices taps, and then SWING. Hole in one! The best part was watching Monty smile, as she raised her arms to cheer for herself, along with the rest of the crowd.

Karl and I have taken our Golf to Go show on the road, visiting local skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities. With each crowd that gathers we see those who are eager, and others that are timid. Everyone participates though, whether they’re taking a few shots themselves, or cheering on the willing. We travel to 1 or 2 locations on a monthly basis, setting up our course with entertaining names for each hole. Through the Dog’s Legs, is a favorite of many of our fans. Golfers have to hit the ball under a metal dog, with a wagging tail. Karl dresses up in the whole outfitknickers, argyle socks, golf shirt, and cap. I follow along in an argyle vest and knickers, with signs to engage the crowd Shhh, Quiet, Applause, Almost! So close! We give out awards for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place, and bring along fresh lemonade for the players. The players come out of their shells, participate, and are focused on the moment.

As I learned from the Wall Street Journal article, golfing as an activity is a behavioral therapy, a common treatment that can be personalized to include a residents particular interests. Instead of creating a one size fits all activities program, we try to consider all residents as individuals and offer activities for each persons preferences and hobbies. For some of our residents, this includes golf, and it is amazing to watch our residents utilize the motor memory of their golf swing.It may have been 20 years or more since they have picked up a golf club, but the response is automatic. According to experts in the field of neurology and the study of memory loss, people don’t lose motor memory. This recall ability allows our residents with dementia to enjoy a positive experience from their past, boosts confidence, and can even provide a small window of clarity.