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

May 13, 2022, 4:45 AM | Updated: 7:20 am
(Pexels Photo)...
(Pexels Photo)
(Pexels Photo)

PHOENIX — A Phoenix-based program is using baseball as therapy for those with cognitive impairments, such as Alzheimer’s, and veterans in the VA with chronic physical disabilities.

One of the facilities 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 ol’ days of America’s pastime.

“Every program typically has a theme, for example, greatest pitchers of the 1960’s,” Jon Leonoudakis, the national program’s chair, said.

He said many of those in the program were fans in the golden age of baseball, post World War II, and they’ll structure each session like a real baseball game.

“We begin with the ‘player’ introductions,” Leonoudakis said. “We’ll go around the room, and everybody introduces themselves, where they’re from, who their favorite baseball team is, and after that, we’ll sing the national anthem.”

Leonoudakis said they want people to really get in the spirit.

“We’ll invite everybody, you know, gear up,” Leonoudakis said. “Wear your hats, wear your team jersey. Bring a cherished item or object like a signed baseball or a pennant and tell us the story behind that.”

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

He added sometimes they’ll play catch with wiffle balls and even do batting practice.

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

Leonoudakis said the program brings many benefits.

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

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

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

When SABR did a study to get a sense of whether the program was working, Leonoudakis said, “Overwhelmingly, the response was it’s a big homerun.”

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