For those diagnosed with a form of dementia, the news can be devastating. It is a life-changing diagnosis that not only affects the patient but also their loved ones.
Someone with Alzheimer’s, for instance, will begin to experience a progression of symptoms. At this time, they will require additional support from their carers. As stated by the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 16.1 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Although diseases such as Alzheimer’s rob someone of their cognition, these individuals are still very much present. They feel emotion long after their memories fade away, and in many ways, are still able to interact with their environment.
That is why researchers began to explore the connection between dementia and the great outdoors. Is it possible that nature can improve a patient’s quality of life?
Study Consults Dementia Patients and Their Carers About the Natural World
Gathering insights, a collaborative project began between Dementia Adventure, Natural England, Dementia Adventure, Innovations in Dementia, and the Mental Health Foundation.
Hoping to strengthen the connection between people and nature, the initial White Paper, “The Natural Choice: securing the value of nature,” acknowledges that the opportunity to spend time in nature is not currently open to everyone. In this case, they were interested in the effect that the natural environment can have on people with dementia.
Based on growing evidence, it is believed that these potential benefits can be grouped into the following:
- An improved emotional state. For example, dementia patients may experience reduced stress, anger, agitation, apathy, and depression. More specifically, nature can help dementia patients feel more connected. In terms of feeling connected to the outdoors as a dementia patient, please read the inspiring story of Sion Jair.
- Improved physical health. For example, improved skin health, sleeping patterns, eating patterns. An improvement in memory and attention have also been reported.
- Improved sense of well-being. For example, greater independence, self-esteem, confidence, and a sense of belonging.
In this report, ‘Is it nice outside? Consulting people living with dementia and carers about engaging with the natural environment,’ dementia patients and their caregivers were surveyed. It was one of the largest surveys of its kind, revealing how dementia patients can improve their access to the great outdoors.
The researchers felt it was important to include dementia patients, gathering more personalized insight. The goal was to determine how the natural environment can become more accessible and comfortable for people with dementia, as well as their carers.
Overall, this report revealed that dementia patients were motivated to engage in outdoor activities that offered a sense of purpose. They were also more engaged in activities that involved other people.
What was most shocking, was that 83 percent of carers believed that a person’s dementia would limit their ability. However, just 20 percent of dementia patients believed that their condition was a barrier to use and enjoy outdoor spaces.
Other key findings:
- In general, where dementia patients go and what they do while there, is heavily influenced by where they live. For example, whether they lived in the countryside or city. How a dementia patient perceives outdoor spaces may be influenced by factors that include their experiences, memory, and ideas of nature. Overall, public parks and gardens were popular places to visit, as well as outdoor spaces with water.
- More than half of all carers (55 percent) said that the individual with dementia was limited by another health condition or physical disability. However, of those who participated in outdoor activities, informal walking was the most commonly cited activity. This was followed by wildlife watching, typically bird watching. Overall, patients were more engaged by the activity itself than by the place. It provided them with a sense of “something going on” and gave them a “reason to go.”
- Transportation was the most frequently cited factor in either enabling or hindering access to natural green spaces. Some dementia patients stated that their carer has a car, but they often just stay in the bedroom when the family goes out. Other stated that they didn’t know which buses to take and that was worrisome. The other main barriers were a lack of confidence and “someone to take me.”
This highly in-depth report is beneficial in that it includes real-life experiences, fears, and potential barriers. It was interesting comparing the carers’ point-of-view in comparison to the dementia patients’. There were also many common themes, supporting recommendations for action.
For example, one recommendation was that managers of outdoor spaces could work alongside local dementia alliances. They could develop a rating system, similar to TripAdvisor, which provides detailed information on dementia-friendly spaces.
If you are currently caring for someone with dementia, it is recommended that you read the full report above. Then, open up the discussion in your household. Would outdoor activities improve the patient’s quality of life? What types of barriers does your loved one face? How can you overcome them?
It is important to remember that dementia patients are often still willing and more importantly, able to participate in such outings.
If you are someone who is concerned about the early warning signs of dementia, you are also encouraged to try the BrainTest® app. This scientifically validated assessment tool can help you detect cognitive defects, so that a potential diagnosis can be reached much sooner.