Understanding the risks involved in an activity to enable a choice for people living with dementia

Understanding the risks involved in an activity to enable a choice for people living with dementia

  • Catriona Sudlow
  • 11 April 2017
  • Posted in: Healthcare

Weighing up the risk involved in an activity against a choice to participate is often a dilemma for people caring for someone living with dementia. It can lead to people not participating in an activity if the perceived risk is too great.


When swimming is suggested as an activity for people living with dementia, it can often be met by a sense of uncertainty due to the perceived risks of a pool environment. The Dementia Friendly Swimming Project (DFSP) has been working with people affected by dementia, both personally and as a carer, to identify these perceived risks which are creating barriers to participation. This knowledge is then used to inform the country’s leisure centres and support them to create a more dementia friendly environment and encourage more people living with dementia to enjoy swimming.

Risks v Choice?

So what are the risks and how can they be overcome to ensure people living with dementia continue to consider swimming as an activity choice?

Through the DFSP the leisure sector has become more aware of the potential risks and how small changes can make a big difference. It is now important to ensure that more pools make these changes, and that people living with dementia are aware that leisure centres have implemented measures to support them.

The DFSP has been working to increase the number of pools across England working to become dementia friendly and to raise this awareness.

Challenges can include the water itself – both the uncertainty on someone’s ability to swim and a lack of confidence from a carer or family member on their ability to support someone in the water. Other areas of concern can be the lack of knowledge about changing facilities and the knowledge and awareness of staff within the centre to be able to offer support when needed.

How can these be addressed to help swimming remain a choice for people living with dementia?

One of the first areas addressed by the DFSP was to upskill the leisure workforce’s awareness of the needs of people affected by dementia when attending a swimming session. This in turn helped raise awareness to the public that leisure facilities are working to enable people living with dementia to continue using their facilities with confidence.

The DFSP then worked with leisure centres across the country to help reduce other risks by supporting them to put measures in place to improve the experience for people living with dementia.

This has included ensuring shallow water is always available during sessions to help people’s confidence when first attending a session. If swimming ability is a concern, shallow water can enable someone to enjoy the water whether swimming or not, building swimming confidence in a less risky environment.  Some sessions also have an instructor on hand to provide additional support and instruction.

The evolution of swimming pools has helped reduce some of the risks related to changing facilities. Many male and female specific changing rooms have been replaced by communal changing areas. These include changing areas with accessible showers, grab rails and toilet. There are also larger family changing cubicles along with the larger standard cubicles which provide extra space. While these changing villages can create issues around navigation, the DFSP has been supporting centres to improve this with additional signage to key facilities such as toilets, pool and showers, and identifying the way out to avoid confusion.

While it is often natural for people to think about the risks involved in an activity when assessing it’s suitability for someone, with the right support these can be reduced to help enable people affected by dementia to make an informed choice about whether swimming is right for them.

The DFSP aims to enhance the offer available to people with dementia so that they can continue to confidently enjoy the water for as long as possible.

  • dementia friendly
  • Dementia Friendly Communities Programme
  • Dementia UK
  • dementia pathway
  • dementia national strategy
  • Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia 2020
  • diagnosing dementia
  • Article Author

About Catriona Sudlow

Catriona delivers the Dementia Friendly Swimming Project in Manchester, working to create a network of dementia friendly pool facilities across the city and supporting people affected by dementia to access these services. This is part of the national project led by the Amateur Swimming Association who are working with partners including local autho…