Ageing is associated with the onset of non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and some types of cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being physically active is key to maintaining health, optimising physical function, and independent living for the elderly. Psychological wellbeing of older people is equally important and those who are active are less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Sport is a type of physical activity which can contribute to the overall health of older people and can be adapted to cater to the needs and abilities of older people, including people with lower physical function. Older people can face barriers to sport, such as a fear of injury, financial constraints, social attitudes, and access. Providing the senior citizens with opportunities to access adapted sport and physical activities is important to promote good health and wellbeing.

Promoting sport for older people

In January 2023, Commonwealth Alumnus Dr Tulika Bhattacharyya organised an awareness activity and sports day addressing ‘Inclusive sports for senior citizens’, in South 24 Parganas District, West Bengal, India.

Dr Bhattacharyya currently works as a Consultant – Senior Citizens Division, at the National Institute of Social Defence, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India. She designs and develops programmes for senior citizens at the national level in India.

Dr Tulika Bhattacharyya and activity co-organisers during the sports day event

To deliver the event, she collaborated with the Calcutta Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology (CMIG), a Regional Resource and Training Centre on Ageing, under the aegis of the Ministry of Social Justice and empowerment. CMIG supports the underprivileged older population by transforming the ageing experience amongst the aged. Besides it also provides technical support in the field of ageing along with capacity building training for all Government funded senior citizen homes in the state of West Bengal and Bihar.

The event was attended by 20 senior citizens aged 60 years and above from peri-urban areas. Dr Bhattacharyya also invited young people to the event to promote further awareness on elderly care.

Understanding the needs of participants

Prior to the event in January, Dr Bhattacharyya delivered a one-day orientation workshop to train a team of volunteers on adaptive sport for senior citizens. This included sensitisation training on best practice and ethical considerations of working with senior citizens, understanding ageing in the Indian context, and the importance of sport for senior citizens.

Before attending the sports day, volunteers and attendees were also invited to a pre-event workshop which enabled them to meet and interact with each other and helped Dr Bhattacharyya to understand the different needs of attendees, including their physical functionality and cognitive ability. This information was used to ensure all planned sport activities were designed and adapted appropriately to support maximum participation.

The sports day event

The sports day event opened with a welcome speech from Dr Bhattacharyya. She was joined by Dr Indrani Chakravarty, Founder Secretary, Calcutta Metropolitan Institute of Gerontology, who spoke about the importance of sports and physical activity for senior citizens, adapted sports opportunities, and the positive impact of sport on good health.

Following the opening remarks, a workshop on, ‘Yoga for senior citizens’ was delivered by a yoga instructor, including a Q&A session on the benefits of yoga. Another workshop on, ‘Sports for senior citizens’ was facilitated.

ACEF participants take part in relay race

Senior citizens took part in a light physical activity of passing the ball while sitting on a chair, an activity which was co-designed by them and the volunteers to ensure inclusivity of all older people. The last activity included competitive sports such as relay race, walking, and wheeling for participants and volunteers.

The sports day event provided an opportunity for young participants and volunteers to learn about ways in which senior citizens can participate in sport and how these can be adapted.

The event closed with a networking session between participants and volunteers. Dr Bhattarcharyya used this time to encourage participants to continue to be physically active either through individual or group sport activities.

Future plans

Post-event, Dr Bhattacharyya conducted a focus group discussion with the volunteers and senior citizens to understand more about their experiences participating in the event. Feedback from the event stated that participants were keen on participating in similar future events. Dr Bhattacharyya has initiated plans with organisations working for older people to deliver similar events at a wider scale in the future.

Dr Tulika Bhattacharyya is a 2017 Distance Learning Commonwealth Scholar from India. She completed a Master’s in Gerontology from University of Southampton. She is also a current 2022 Distance Learning Commonwealth Scholar pursuing a Master’s in Dementia Studies at the University of Stirling.