Clemson researchers tackle dementia with football memories

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Professor Brent Hawkins watches as a resident rubs a replica of Clemson's Howard’s Rock.
Professor Brent Hawkins watches as a resident rubs a replica of Clemson's Howard’s Rock.

A program combining football history, game footage and memorabilia is providing seniors near Clemson University with a unique multisensory intervention that may help them face the hurdle of memory loss.

Researchers from the university's parks, recreation and tourism management department teamed with Brookdale Senior Living Solution's Central, SC, location to test a relatively unique memory strategy.

“Reminiscence therapy is one of the best ways to help people recall things; a smell from cooking or lyrics from a favorite song can bring back memories from decades ago,” said Brent Hawkins, assistant professor of recreational therapy. “This type of therapy is common in recreational therapy, but it's rarely paired with sports.”

What better place to test the concept than at Clemson, where the Tigers captured the 2017 NCAA football title — and nearly had the chance to repeat until a loss in the semifinals Monday night?

More than 16 residents arrived for weekly sessions — sometimes with family members in tow — and talked about everything from tailgating to football traditions while wearing cloth helmets or holding footballs in their laps.

They participated in Clemson cheers, listened to patriotic songs on a resident's harmonica and finished each meeting with a miniature cornhole tournament.

By analyzing data and adjusting protocols, the Clemson researchers hope to develop a program that can be adapted to suit other teams, sports or regions.

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