We first met Les (and his wife Julie) in early November 2017, he shuffled into Medbourne Pavilion to join our first ever Walking Football session. It was actually due to have started a week before but our holiday in Iceland was extended by two days after an almighty Atlantic storm blew in and grounded all aircraft for 12 hours!
Les had told me on the phone that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's some nine years ago and was keen to get back into some sort of physical exercise. To add to the mix Les had been diabetic since 1996. He was unsteady on his feet and used a stick to aid him and give him confidence. Julie joined in with the ladies who had gathered for our art club. Les and I ventured outside to what was a reasonably decent day for the time of year, cloudy but cold and dry.
We were the only ones involved in the session that day and that was pretty much how it went for the ill fated Medbourne Walking football sessions, however Les did not falter. He came to every session bar one over the next nine months. That first day, we stretched, warmed up, we kicked a ball back and forth in a small marked out pitch, he practiced dribbling the football and at the end he left with a smile on his face.
As it became obvious the Walking Football wasn't going to take off on a Tuesday afternoon in MK (we do have a very successful group who meet on a Monday night in Newport Pagnell) our sessions became more one to one in style, we focused on Les's weaknesses, balance, co-ordination and confidence. We played and developed mostly football related challenges at the start, but this developed further to activities as diverse as tug of war to boxing to basketball. Les loved it, it became a regular end of sessions question "what score are you giving me today coach?" His determination to fight the Alzheimer's symptoms is impressive.
As the business developed we moved away from Medbourne and Les and Julie now travel over to Sherington and Emberton to get their art and activity fix with us.
Our hour long (ish) sessions always begin with a cuppa and a chat, usually revolving around football and specifically Leicester City (as hard as I've tried I can't sort that affliction out!). Once we've put the world to rights we now head off to Emberton Country Park to do a 1.7 mile lap of the pathway. The lap consists of three variations of pace, from stroll to walking with a purpose to a jog, we stop at six areas on the lap to complete a variety of exercises so he benefits from a whole body work out.
Les also loves the environment that he is now exercising in, he describes the green of the trees and grass as soothing and helps lifts his mood further, he's even convinced Julie to join him on a second session on a Thursday.
The Alzheimer's Society say "keeping mentally, physically and socially active can have a very positive impact on a person with Alzheimer’s disease. They should try to keep up with activities they enjoy and may also want to try new ones." This is evident in Les, he's thriving.
We are certainly not specialists with Alzheimer's but it does seem that the things we do may be beneficial, more suggestions from The Alzheimer's Society:
Take regular physical exercise such as swimming, walking or tai chi.
Exercising the mind with reading or puzzles.
Joining a group to sing, dance or make music.
Doing arts, crafts or other hobbies.
Before writing the blog I asked Julie about the difference she sees in Les - "His blood sugars have improved so much since exercising, he used to be called back to the nurse every 3 months, it's now every 6 months. He's happy but tired after his sessions with you. You and Liddy have been a fantastic tonic for us both. I know on a Tuesday he is well looked after and I can enjoy my art without a worry. Thursday's remind me of the old Les, we have always been competitive, but he doesn't like me beating him!"
Recently Les completed a full mile running, his pace will never challenge Olympians, but it's a far far cry from the man in the anorak using a stick who shuffled into Medbourne Pavilion 18 months ago.