Table Tennis Therapy for Alzheimers

Last Thursday I attended a UXPA event for World Usability Day, and one of the talks has had a huge impact on me.

A chap named Ian came to the front humbly holding a small stack of A4 papers, and 2 of his colleagues walked up and stood either side of a table tennis table, bats in hand, ready to play.

Immediately, I was drawn to 2 things before the talk had even begun. Firstly the table tennis table itself; it was designed slightly different to the ‘norm’ – it had panels on either side and was completely white (rather than green as usually seen). Secondly, I couldn’t help but notice on the back of their t’shirt, the words “drug free therapy” were proudly placed.

What is the BAT Foundation?

Ian’s colleagues begun to play a casual game of table tennis and he started to introduce BAT. He explained how the BAT Foundation is a health and wellbeing charity that deliver specialised table tennis therapy for those with Alzheimer’s. At this point I’m desperate to find out more. He explained;

“with regular play, this reduces cognitive decline and delays symptoms”

Backed up by research conducted in Japan in the 90s; trials proved that table tennis activated up to 5 portions of the brain in individuals with Alzheimer’s during play. How brilliant is that?? As Ian perfectly said, I am convinced that it really is the ‘World’s Number One Brain Sport’.

Furthermore, Ian outlined how there are of course great physical benefits from partaking in a sport, and more importantly the great social benefits. Table tennis is a very sociable game, which can be incredibly benefitial.

Ian discussed several case studies of patients the BAT Foundation have worked with. One in particular that stood out to me came from the topic of ‘Ambidextrous Play’. Part of the therapy they deliver involves playing with the less dominate hand. He told us about a man who begun the therapy needing assistance in order to stand (balance etc), and the results from ambidextrous play were amazing;

“play with the less dominate hand has great results…he can now stand unaided”

 Designing an Alzheimer’s  Friendly Table

Ian made a statement to explain the thoughts behind the design process of the table, which is fascinating;

“if you present (an individual with Alzheimers) a white bowl with white rice, they will see an empty bowl”

He explained how having a white playing surface and contrasting bright balls (orange), enhances contrast to assist sight and perception. The first symptoms with Alzheimer’s are often to do with the visual cortex. Therefore this design choice really focuses on the user experience and how it benefits them, which of course I love.

He then went on to explain the benefits of adding side panels, something I was curious about from the start. The panels keep the ball in play for longer duration and increases attention span (by decreasing distraction).

As well, Ian explained how the panels can be projected on to, to help patients with telling the time and more.

All amazing stuff right? If you want to read up more about this (which I definitely recommend you do), visit the BAT Therapy Table page.

Research

If you want to read more about the current research behind this incredible therapy, as well as look at the past research conducted in Japan, please visit the BAT Foundation Research page.

This includes many fascinating topics such as;

  • Improving hand-eye coordination
  • Stimulating the Hippocampus
  • Extending long-term memory
  • Delaying cognitive decline
  • Enhancing motor skills

As a final note, thank you to UPXA for hosting such a fascinating talk. And thank you to the BAT Foundation for being great!

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