Leisure and Dementia [Conference Reflections]

Published by Association for Dementia Studies

August 3, 2023


This week we hand over to Dr Chris Russell as he reflects on attending and presenting at the Leisure Studies Association Conference held in Bournemouth in July 2023. Over to you Chris…

Leisure is tricky to define but precious. However we understand leisure, our leisure time and how we fill it will be fundamental to our sense of selves and how we live life. That is true for people living with dementia as much as anybody else. For these reasons, leisure is of great personal and professional interest. A new book, ‘Leisure and Everyday Life with Dementia’, co-edited by myself and colleagues Karen Gray and Jane Twigg, draws relevant learning together, and offers recommendations for practice, research and study.

Several years ago, during my PhD study, the Leisure Studies Association (LSA) was recommended to me. The LSA is a learned academic society which exists to promote leisure and thinking about leisure in academia and practice of all sorts. From bridge to basketball, from travel to theatre, and everything in between (and beyond). If you have an interest in leisure, why not join? You will struggle to find an association of colleagues more generous in their support, and collegiate in approach.

The opportunity to attend the LSA’s annual conference is invaluable. It provides the chance to present on work completed for constructive critique (such as the edited collection, mentioned above), to hear about the multiplicity of research and scholarship taking place within the leisure world, and (for me) to reflect upon this within the context of dementia. Recently I had this opportunity, attending and contributing to the LSA’s conference, ‘Recreating Leisure’, held at the University of Bournemouth. Here are some of my reflections, based upon a number of the presentations I attended. I hope the subject matter stimulates you to think about what you do in new and different ways too.

Professor Donna Chambers opened the event with her keynote presentation, ‘The role of the erotic within women’s leisure: contemplations of a Black feminist.’ Donna highlighted the work of Audre Lorde to encourage celebration of the non-rational, contrasting the widely known and accepted philosophy of, “I think therefore I am”, with an alternative, “I feel therefore I can be free.” Understandings of feelings, emotions, the senses and freedom play an important part in progressive understanding of dementia, as does sex and sexuality. So, this was a wonderful way to start the conference. Donna went on to introduce the audience to ‘Black Girls Hike’ and ‘Girl Trek’ , where walking is used as an act of resistance. Using walking in such a way is a theme that resonates within modern thinking about dementia and leisure.

Speaking of resistance, but with a change in pace, I was fascinated by the paper given by Sarah Barnes on ‘The 8–8–8 Rule: Exploring sleep and the concept of work-life balance’. In no way was this paper focused upon dementia, but it provided a powerful prompt to consider sleep and rest as acts of resistance by people living with dementia, as opportunities to demonstrate agency. This was followed by Catherine Kelly and Caroline Scarles presenting on, ‘Let’s Jump in Together: A multistakeholder perspective on blue spaces for health and wellbeing’. Blue spaces are bodies of water and areas near water, including lakes, rivers, beaches, bays, landlocked seas, ponds and more. Catherine and Caroline advised that the NHS is saved £357million annually through people using these spaces to exercise. The importance and significance of the places alongside the water was also notable.

Dan Henhawk presented on, ‘Decolonising Leisure? Looking at leisure through a critical Indigenous lens’. Dan’s work includes a focus upon Indigenous notions of decolonization, indigenization, sovereignty and self-determination. His presentation explored leisure in the context of these themes. Dan’s articulation of how indigenous people and nations have been adversely affected by imperialism and colonisation spoke to understandings of identity and displacement, both core themes in dementia discourse. Relationality – living in respect with others, including entities in the natural world – was offered as a means through which communities might challenge oppression. This is a complex and sensitive topic, well beyond my expertise, and I hesitate to offer articulation of it as a result. However, it made a powerful impression on my thinking. This is not least because notions of displacement from familiar place, the importance of the natural world, and significance of relationships as a means of asserting identity and challenging oppression resonate with progressive understanding within the dementia context.

So, this was a wonderful opportunity to refresh and consider ideas anew for teaching and research in the year ahead, and well beyond. Thank you so much to all involved in the conference.

Thanks to Chris for sharing his experience and introducing us to some new ideas and research.

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