21 September is World Alzheimer's Day, when stakeholders across the globe come together to raise wider awareness of the condition, and explore ways to support people with Alzheimer's and those closest to them.

The theme for this year's celebration is 'Never too Early, Never too Late', focusing on identifying risk factors and adopting measures that can help prevent the onset of dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is a brain disorder and the most common form of dementia, impacting memory, language, thinking and reasoning skills, and how people see and act in everyday life. It is the most common cause of dementia, acocunting for between 60-80% of dementia cases.

More and more people are impacted by this disease, with it being estimated that over 10% of people aged over 65 have Alzheimer's disease. Research in the United Kingdom found that 1 in 3 people in the country will grow up to develop dementia. These figures will likely only increase globally as our population continues to live longer lives than before, and it is vital that we create support systems for people experiencing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Alzheimer’s can impact not only physical elements of someone’s life, but emotional elements too. A report from The Economist found that 30-60% of people are undiagnosed, and a large number put off diagnosis for fear of attitudinal barriers that they may face. The report also noted that a lack of understanding can lead some friends and family to avoid those with Alzheimer’s, which can in fact be detrimental to the individual’s mental health. It is incredibly important to combat this and offer support. 

To do so, there are several countries who have begun to use football as a place of support and refuge for those with Alzheimer’s. Football is an incredibly social sport, and many people have extremely vivid memories attached to their team. Many of the typical Alzheimer’s symptoms can leave those who have developed it feeling distressed, disoriented and upset when they cannot remember people around them or where they are. Football can be used to not only prevent that distress (at least for some time) but can also help continue nurturing relationships between family and friends.

Around World Alzheimer's Day 2020, which took place amidst the peak of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions, CAFE spoke with Hamburger SV and Everton in the Community about the programmes they have in place for fans with Alzheimer's disease. Football has continued to embrace fans with Alzheimer's, with similar programmes and research taking place across the game.

Further work is being done by organisations such as Alzheimer Europe, who continue to contribute to a number of research projects across Europe, as well as campaigning for further support for people with Alzheimer’s. Other instances of support from national teams can be found, such as players taking to the pitch without names on their shirts to highlight the confusion and memory loss often experienced by those living with dementia. An example of this took place on day 3 of the recent Ashes cricket test match between England and Australia, which was dedicated to the work being done to support sports fans with dementia.

Today, we join with others across the world in celebrating World Alzheimer's Day. It is crucially important that society is mindful of the stereotypes faced by people with Alzheimer's and dementia, and how we can become more inclusive as a whole. Football has an incredibly unique power to lead that change.

If you would like to discuss your ideas for projects to support fans with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, please email us at [email protected] or call +44 (0) 203 355 9867.

Published 21/9/2023