‘League’ uses baseball memories for therapy

The Adult Day Center at the J partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association in 2016 to start the Cardinals Reminiscence League program, pairing baseball and reminiscence therapy.

Alan Spector

What is your favorite St. Louis Cardinals memory?  Have you or a loved one been dealing with mild to moderate dementia?  What does the baseball term “can of corn” refer to and where did it originate?  

What these questions have in common is the Cardinals Reminiscence League (CRL), a program offered through the Adult Day Center at the Jewish Community Center of St. Louis.  

Reminiscence therapy, in general, prompts the discussion of positive memories of past activities, events and experiences for the purpose of mentally stimulating participants.  And what better way to make this happen than to create such discussions about the Cardinals and about baseball in general among those who grew up and live in St. Louis?  The good news is that it’s fun, and the best news is that studies consistently show that reminiscence therapy can benefit quality of life for both those with dementia and their caregivers.   

The Adult Day Center at the J partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association in 2016 to become one of the few Cardinals Reminiscence League programs in the area.  Now in its fourth season, the Adult Day Center at the J’s CRL program remains one of only two in the St. Louis area, and one of only six in the country using baseball as the basis for a therapeutic approach.

The sports-related reminiscence therapy concept did not originate in the United States, nor with baseball.  It began in Scotland with soccer in 2009 and has spread to golf, rugby, cricket and shinty, a game that resembles field hockey.  Scotland has expanded their programs to more than 300 locations.  

The value of sports-related reminiscence therapy continues to be studied.  Michael Ego, professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Connecticut, has traveled to Scotland to learn about their programs and has begun the Baseball Reminiscence Program at Cos Cob, Conn.  

Ego writes, “…[A]ny work toward finding a cure is incredibly important.  But in the absence of one, I’ve always been struck by why, in the U.S., less attention is devoted to improving the quality of life for persons with dementia.”  He continues, “I found that sports — specifically, something called ‘sports reminiscence therapy’ — is increasingly playing a role.”

Ego has been in touch with Adult Day Center at the J to learn more about what we do, and we look forward to learning from his ongoing research as well. 

During a CRL session, participants discuss various baseball topics, but it’s focused on Cardinals history.  At Adult Day Center at the J, we’re fortunate that local memorabilia collector Howard Bly brings pieces to show and share.  Another segment of each of the monthly sessions is about baseball terminology.  

Participants love recalling, figuring out, and discussing what the terms mean.  What is “high cheese,” or a “yakker,” or “Uncle Charlie?”

There are visual prompts, both pictures and videos, and musical interludes.  We sing the national anthem and take a seventh-inning stretch with “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”  All of these are used, along with interactive conversations, to prompt cognitive stimulation.  

Some participants, both men and women, come on their own, and others are accompanied by friends or family — everyone gets involved.  Sharon Schacher, who joins her husband, says, “Bernie and I have been attending the Cardinals Reminiscence League for three years and it has been a big blessing. We’re both huge Cardinals fans and sharing this time with others who share our passion has been a joy.” 

Ashley Stockman is the Director of Adult Day Center at the J, and she has been instrumental in growing this important program. 

“The St. Louis Cardinals and the game of baseball are engrained as a foundation of our society and our community, offering a rich history to which each of us can make a personal connection,” Stockman says. “CRL is a fun, interactive program that brings a unique and fascinating approach for evoking memory recall for people with cognitive impairments.” 

I’m honored to have had the opportunity to have facilitated the Cardinals Reminiscence League program with the Adult Day Center at the J over these four baseball seasons.  It’s energizing to see and hear the excited interaction among participants. Any Cardinals fan who has or has a loved one with mild or moderate dementia could benefit from this program, which is on the leading edge of developing sports reminiscence therapy in the U.S.

And by the way — what is your favorite Cardinals memory?  And what does “can of corn” mean?  And what is the origin of the baseball term?