Supporting golfers with dementia – Terry’s story

Supporting golfers with dementia – Terry’s story

Terry is 57 and was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s six years ago. He is also a golfer.

He keeps playing with the support of his pals, and in particular his best friend, David. He makes sure Terry gets out on the course a couple of times a week at St Ives (Hunts) Golf Club in Cambridgeshire, where they are members.

“We have played golf together for over 20 years so it’s great to be able to both enjoy it still, despite his memory problems,” said David.

There are 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK and England Golf receives an increasing number of questions from clubs and golfers about helping people to continue to play. The organisation has also contributed to the first dementia-friendly sport and physical activity guide, produced by the Alzheimer’s Society, and urges all clubs to become dementia friendly.

Here, David shares his experience with Terry to encourage other golfers to help people with dementia to continue to play.  His tips:

  • Preparation – Terry is starting to struggle with basic things like getting his kit and trolley ready and when to put on his shoes. So we go through a familiar routine and I check that all is in order before we get going.
  • Yellow ball – Terry always plays with a yellow ball. It’s easier for him and us and it helps Terry to feel more relaxed, particularly on the putting green. We make sure he only has yellow balls in his bag and that we have spare yellow balls if needed.
  • Pairs – We always try to play in pairs so that a bad hole for Terry is not so bad for the team. He also enjoys the banter and high fives that being in a team brings. If we are playing in a competition we still play a side game in pairs that is the focus for the game.
  • Tee off last – Terry always tees off last. It means everyone else is watching where his ball goes rather than preparing for their turn. We watch to make sure he has the correct tee and toss him the correct one if he has got it wrong. We talk though where his shot went so that when he is ready to move on we have reinforced where to look.
  • Buddy up  – As we split up to go down the fairway, the person whose ball  is closest to Terry will help him find his ball. It means the effort to support Terry is shared and more natural than just one of us doing it.
  • Coaching – We know Terry will not remember things. For example, there is no point telling him that his ball is in the left hand bunker at the back of the green when you are 50 yards away. You need to walk up to the green and then say it and maybe go with him until he finds it. Recently he has needed a bit more coaching on chipping – when to use a 7 iron bump and run or a wedge to chip over a bunker. It helps that most of us have GPS, so that we talk about yardage and club selection for all our shots – not just Terry’s.
  • Scoring – We always score for Terry and don’t expect him to remember anything or be able to score for others.
  • Positive feedback – If he is having a bad day individually we just don’t mention it. We focus on talking through good shots, not just Terry’s. It’s better to say ‘that was a great shot in on the last hole’ or ‘that was your best drive yet’ even if he has just scored eight on a par 4. He will have forgotten the bad shots so reinforcing the good shots keeps him in good spirits.

Finally, there’s the kindness of senior golfers. David says: “Most golf clubs have a large senior section. Many of these payers understand how some people need more support to play and are more than willing to accommodate diverse needs.”

Caption: Golfing friends, Dave, Terry, John and Stewart.

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