“Reminiscence League” Helps Baseball Fans with Alzheimer’s

Given the recent crackdown on baseball players using performance-enhancing drugs – and the disgust that many of us feel toward the sport right now – a baseball story may be the last thing you want to read.

But this one is different. It’s a good one.

You’ve got to trust me on this, considering that I’m a die-hard Cubs fan and I’m about to tell you something good about the St. Louis Cardinals. You know I would never, ever do that unless the Cards were shining with heart and generosity.

And that’s exactly what they’re doing with their “Cardinals Reminiscence League.”

In this joint project between the Cardinals organization, the Alzheimer’s Association, the St. Louis VA hospital, and St. Louis University, individuals with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers are brought together twice a month to reminisce about – you guessed it – baseball.

(c) Pierce Township, Ohio

(c) Pierce Township, Ohio

This idea is brilliant in its simplicity. People with Alzheimer’s develop significant memory problems over time, but long-term memory stays remarkably intact even into the late stages of the disease. Long-term memory is where we store our most precious recollections about childhood, family, and the events in our lives we hold most dear.

For baseball fans, it’s where many of us store our memories about this storied game.

When I was a graduate student, I took a course in the psychology of aging that required me to visit elders in a local assisted living facility. One man I visited was in the later stages of Alzheimer’s and rarely spoke – except when we swapped stories about baseball. I fondly recall him delivering a play-by-play description of a suspenseful inning one afternoon, including each pitch call, earned base, and run scored. I had no idea what teams were playing or what decade we were in, but oh, I was right there with him. And he was happy.

The Cardinals Reminiscence League recently took a tour of Busch Stadium and got to hold memorabilia from the team’s hall of fame. Most of the time, they simply visit and share stories, each one sparking the memory of another comrade in a beautiful interplay of friendship and cognitive stimulation through the common bond of baseball.

Experts say that this kind of program can improve the mood of those with Alzheimer’s as well as enhance communication skills by socializing with others in a relaxed yet creative way. I completely agree. I cannot think of a better program to help individuals with Alzheimer’s who love this sport.

And by reminiscing, they can remember baseball the way it used to be, before it lost its innocence.

See, I told you this was a good story about baseball, even though it’s about the Cardinals.

Which makes me wonder – is there a chance we could create a Wrigley Reminiscence League someday? I strongly urge the Cubs, the Greater Illinois Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, and local universities and VA hospitals to put their heads together and make this happen. I’d be happy to help, and I’d be the program’s biggest fan.

Note: I first read about this wonderful program at myfoxphilly.com.

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