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From washing boots to motor racing champions: Exploring women’s experiences of sport reminiscence for people affected by dementia

Oatley, Rebecca ORCID: 2021. From washing boots to motor racing champions: Exploring women’s experiences of sport reminiscence for people affected by dementia. PhD Thesis, University of Worcester.

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Sport reminiscence involves sharing life stories and experiences that are based around individual or collective memories that are connected to sport. As a group activity, it has been suggested to be beneficial for men living with dementia, and previous research has focussed only on the experiences of men. This rationale is rooted in a particular hegemonic masculinity that is inextricably linked with UK sporting culture. However, community-based groups often include male and female participants. This research is the first to explore the experiences of sport reminiscence for women affected by dementia in community group activities. The research took an ethnographic approach to data generation. Fieldwork was undertaken across four sport reminiscence groups hosted by professional sports clubs over nine months. Data were generated through field observations and conversations with female participants at sport reminiscence group activities. Data generation also included in-depth interviews with seven women affected by dementia. A thematic analysis was undertaken using a critical constructionist approach to explore the experiences of group sport reminiscence activities and the sport-related memories of women involved. Meaning and experience were explored at both semantic and latent levels. Findings indicated that the promise of social opportunity was more enticing to women than either the content or context of sport in group activities. The evidence questioned the meaningfulness and relevance of sport reminiscence to group activities. Large group numbers (up to 60 people) reflected a social need in both care partners and people living with dementia, rather than reflecting evidence of either successful intervention, or interest in the particular sport reminiscence topic. In the group setting, reminiscence activities were usually centred upon the specific history of the club hosting the group. Women rarely engaged in sport reminiscence activities in this context and opportunities for social interaction could be limited. This was a result of large group size, passive entertainment activities, gendered barriers, and a lack of interest or relevance identified in the themes presented by group facilitators. The style of activities and nature of the groups benefited care partners, but there was evidence that the benefits to care partners could be in conflict with those living with dementia (and vice versa). There was a particular risk that sport reminiscence could provoke negative emotions in female care partners who identified that historical sports participation may have contributed to their partner’s dementia condition. Findings demonstrated that the sporting context was highly gendered. This was constructed by assumptions expressed by the women, as well as behaviour, themes and triggers evident in the group environment. Gendered assumptions shaped how women understood, accessed, and engaged with the sport reminiscence group opportunity. However, some women revealed sport-related connections in one-to-one conversations that demonstrated sport could be a meaningful topic, and one which offered scope to challenge gendered assumptions and uphold identity. Insight into the varied, and sometimes hidden, histories of older women in sport was revealed (e.g. participation in motor racing, attending football matches). The topic of sport offered opportunities for women to uphold their identity through sharing past memories, the process of social interaction, or though embodied action and interaction with in-the-moment sport-related activity. This study broadens understanding of sport reminiscence by adding both female voices, and a critical perspective to the concept. This exploratory, qualitative work provides evidence that develops understanding of the concepts and assumptions that have underpinned sport reminiscence, but which have largely been overlooked by other studies undertaken thus far. As an activity, there is promise that sport reminiscence can be a meaningful activity for some women (and some men), however, the group context in particular remains limited by large-scale, generalised group approaches that propagate a context that is exclusive and narrowly defined in terms of both sociocultural characteristics and dementia. Recasting the values of group interventions to promote choice between and within group settings would be of value. Smaller groups, with increased numbers of facilitators would be more effective in providing specialised support for people affected by dementia. The wider context of sport has the potential to produce positive and negative outcomes, but further questions with regards to the conditions required in order to produce beneficial outcomes will only advance both research and practice.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Additional Information: An open access version of this thesis can be downloaded from the link below.
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Last Modified: 21 Jul 2023 01:20

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