LIFESTYLE

Alzheimer's Disease Could Have A Drug-Free And Effective Treatment Via Table Tennis

24/07/2015 13:19 BST | Updated 24/07/2015 13:59 BST

Taking medication is currently the most common way to control and reduce symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, but it's far from ideal.

Not only is medication unpopular with patients and their carers as some people can experience side effects, Alzheimer's medication is having a huge economic impact on the UK.

The disease costs Britain a staggering £26.3 billion each year, with £4.3 billion of total costs going to drugs and healthcare alone.

Thankfully, a group of researchers think they may have found a far more fun and cost-effective alternative to treating Alzheimer's disease.

They key, they believe, could be playing table tennis.

the bounce alzheimers therapy foundation

In partnership with King's College London, the Bounce Alzheimer’s Therapy Foundation (BAT) has conducted research to monitor the effects table tennis may have on a person with dementia.

When the scientists analysed data from MRI scans during their research, they found the sport can help reduce cognitive decline and improve long-term memory for those living with the illness.

"There’s a part of the brain called the hippocampus and that part of the brain is seen to be really important when it comes to creating new memories," Andrew Battley, BAT's research and training director tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle.

"In those with dementia and Alzheimer’s, the hippocampus is shown to be smaller, but activity, such as table tennis, has be shown to help with blood flow to the brain and actually stimulate that part of it.

"The idea is that if the hippocampus is stimulated and therefore bigger - in other words, not left to waste away - then that’s going to support the brain to hold back symptoms of Alzheimer's for longer."

According to BAT, delaying the onset of Alzheimer's by five years could save up to 30,000 lives a year in the UK.

The team were inspired to look into the benefits of table tennis by a documentary film called Ping Pong, that follows eight people across the world as they compete in ping pong competitions.

One character in the film, who is in a care home and has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, finds table tennis within the care facility improves her symptoms.

BAT is now developing their research, and hopes to train care home staff in delivering a specialised table tennis therapy plan to residents in the future.

They've already provided a couple of care settings with tables and plan to raise funds to eventually bring table tennis to the masses.

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Battley, who has been an avid table tennis player himself for 28 years, says the concept has been popular with care home residents and families that BAT has been involved with to date.

"Many older people I've spoken to during the campaign have a fond memory of playing table tennis because it was so prevalent when they were younger," he says.

"The sport may be getting a bit of a retro-hipster makeover of late, but it was definitely something people enjoyed playing back in the day.

"People may not have played for 20 or 30 years, but they pick up a bat and say ‘Oh I used to play this all the time when I was younger’. Within a few minutes it’s all coming back to them and they’re really, really enjoying it."

One of the people who has witnessed just how beneficial table tennis can be for people with Alzheimer's disease, is Alison Nicolson.

Her husband Norman, 82, has Alzheimer's disease.

He been playing table tennis to help maintain his physical and cognitive ability for three years. The pair recently became involved in the work of BAT, when they heard about the project at The Alzheimer's Show, an exhibition around dementia.

Norman played competitive table tennis until he was 64, but took up the sport again at 79.

"He still has amazing ball skills," Mrs Nicolson tells us. "He's lost how to score and who serves, but boy can he hit that ball!"

"It gives him a great feeling of success, as well as the endorphin high of a good workout.

"It also gives our friends, neighbours and their children, an easy way to engage with him. All the dads try to beat him and fail, even with two players against him.

"For me, table tennis provides a great respite, feet up, a cup of coffee, knowing he is safe and happy."

BAT will be starting to deliver their medical research with King’s College to official medical boards by the end of the summer.

Their next aim is to develop specialist equipment that will enhance the playing of table tennis for people living with dementia.

By looking at things like the colour schemes and changing the table tennis environment, the team hope to create a unique version of the game that enables people with dementia to focus better when they’re playing.

"If you speak to anyone who plays table tennis they’ll tell you that it’s brilliant physically, mentally and socially for anyone or any age," Battley says.

"One of the great things about table tennis is that you can play sat down at the table - that’s why it’s such a good sport for older people.

"While dementia isn’t an age specific disease, as we’re getting older as a nation, there are more older people that do have those symptoms. Looking into alternative solutions makes sense."

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