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First Gillingham laid on Singing for the Brain, a musical gathering for local people living with dementia, their family or carers.

Now the town is set to provide another free activity – Swimming for the Brain. Each week people with dementia will be able to enjoy regular swimming sessions at RiversMeet leisure centre. The hour-long sessions, which start on Thursday 7 September, will allow people to swim or simply enjoy being in the water at a quiet time when no one else is around.

‘Swimming for the Brain was devised so that we could cater for those customers who really wanted a quieter pool time without the hustle and bustle of a public swimming session,’ explains Alan Waistell, RiversMeet’s general manager.

The Swimming for the Brain sessions are the result of a partnership between local medical practices, the Patient Participation Group, Dementia Friends, the RiversMeet Leisure Centre and the Three Rivers Community Partnership. Money from a grant provided by the Dorset County Council Community Innovation Fund will pay for the hour-long sessions at RiversMeet’s pool and help pay for some administrative costs.

Initially it is being run as a six-month pilot project for 20 people with dementia, and all those taking part have to be registered with and referred by their GP surgery in Gillingham. However, the longer-term aim is to include other GP practices in the area, such as those in Shaftesbury, Sturminster, Stalbridge and Mere.

Anyone who wishes to take part needs to ask their doctor who will give them the necessary form. The practice will also devise a questionnaire as a base line evaluation and during the six month period a community nurse will visit patients and go over the questionnaire again to assess positive changes. The sessions may be accompanied by calming music and organisers say there will also be a chance for people to socialise and reminisce afterwards in the leisure centre’s café.

One of the organisers of the project, Dementia Friends Champion Anne Kings, said: ‘The Singing for the Brain which is held weekly on Wednesday afternoons is a wonderful experience, so we really hope that people will take advantage of these Swimming for the Brain sessions and enjoy them just as much.
‘We have put a lot of thought into getting them right so they will have something to look forward to in the winter months when the days are shorter, and the weather more dismal.’

She added: ‘Our small committee are so overwhelmed by our work to make Gillingham a Dementia-friendly community, and we see the wonderful effect on those living with dementia when we put on events which they can enjoy coming to either alone or with their loved one or carer.’

Alan Waistell, who has experience of such projects elsewhere, said: ‘Being in water while supervised by efficient and suitably qualified staff gives the customer a safe environment knowing we are there to help. The sessions are a structured stress-free environment catching what swimming does for you physically as some of the clients may have not swam for a very long time due to the stresses of a normal public swimming session.’

He continued: ‘We fully support this session and would hope to achieve great things with the clients on their swim with us.’

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