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Phoenix-based program using baseball as therapy for cognitive impairments, physical disabilities

By on May 13, 2022 0

PHOENIX – A Phoenix-based program uses baseball as therapy for people with cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and VA veterans with chronic physical disabilities.

One of the institutions they partner with is the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix.

The Society for American Baseball Research has created a “Baseball Memories” program to facilitate discussions and reminisce about the good old days of the American pastime.

“Each program usually has a theme, for example, the best pitchers of the 1960s,” said Jon Leonoudakis, national program president.

He said many of those on the program were fans from baseball’s heyday, after World War II, and would structure each session like a real baseball game.

“We start with the ‘player’ introductions,” Leonoudakis said. “We’ll walk around the room, and everyone will introduce themselves, where they’re from, what their favorite baseball team is, and after that, we’ll sing the national anthem.”

Leonoudakis said they wanted people to really get into the spirit.

“We’re going to invite everyone, you know, get ready,” Leonoudakis said. “Wear your hats, wear your team jersey. Bring in a treasured item or object like a signed baseball or pennant and tell us the story behind it.

Leonoudakis said the goal is to get people talking, sharing stories and connecting with each other, which can be difficult for people with cognitive disorders like dementia.

He added that sometimes they will play catch with wiffle balls and even practice batting.

“I say if you can hit it past me, it’s a home run, then we’ll play a home run derby and they’ll all be excited about it,” he said. “It’s really amazing to see.”

Leonoudakis said the program brings many benefits.

“When we get people to open up, talk about their memories and share their stories, we improve socialization,” Leonoudakis said.

“We also connect with people who might feel isolated. It creates friendships and community. It increases self-esteem and life satisfaction.

He said that while the program is not a cure and some of the benefits are temporary, it is an important tool to improve the quality of life of its members.

When SABR did a study to find out if the program worked, Leonoudakis said, “The overwhelming response was that it’s a big home run.”

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