Enjoying the great outdoors when living with dementia

05 July 2019

In her sixth blog for Promedica24, Beth Britton writes about the numerous benefits to getting outside for a person with dementia and gives some tips on how to enjoy an outdoor summer


Given that we are, in theory, now in midsummer, this seems an apt time to write about one of my greatest passions in dementia care – the role of the great outdoors. From balconies to back gardens, parks to promenades, the wonderful outdoor world offers both a sensory delight in the form of the sights, sounds, smells and textures of nature, and fantastic ways to become more active, all of which can benefit a person with dementia.

How being outside can boost wellbeing

The natural world is a non-demanding companion for a person with dementia. So, whilst trying to work a TV remote or make a cup of tea may become increasingly frustrating, sitting or strolling while listening to birds singing, pegging out washing or doing some gardening are often much more relaxing, intuitive things to do that don’t require technological endeavour.

For many people with dementia, the stimulation of the outdoor world naturally leads to reminiscing about a childhood garden or holidays taken as a child or adult. There is a familiarity and sometimes a curiosity from watching animals or birds that is absorbing and safe, and many of Promedica24’s live-in care workers report that getting outside with the person they are supporting has triggered spontaneous conversations that show just how engaging and enjoyable it can be to see wildlife up close.

There is also a comfort associated with experiencing nature, be it the wind in your hair, raindrops on your hands or the sun on your face. These are the constants of life, whether you are 8 or 80, and don’t require memory recall in order to make sense of them.

How being outside can boost health

Our bodies benefit from being outside. Natural vitamin D on the skin is a big bonus, particularly given that most of the UK population (and particularly older people) are at risk of being deficient in this key vitamin. But perhaps most eye-opening of all is the effect getting outside has on a person’s appetite. My dad would eat far more sat outside on a warm day than he ever would inside where food smells lingered and the atmosphere felt more oppressive.

Eating outside can often be more sociable too, particularly if you’re having a family BBQ, a picnic in the local park or an ice-cream with the grandchildren by the sea. Consider food-related outdoor activities too – if you have a local pick-your-own, a person with dementia may enjoy visiting, picking fruits and bringing them home for a cream tea with their live-in care worker, family or friends in their back garden.

Being mindful of individual preferences

Experiencing the great outdoors can mean many things to many different people. Some people may never want to venture further than the chair outside their back door, other people may want to go on holiday to paddle in the sea again or experience the exhilaration of a boat ride. The good news is that there are numerous dementia friendly holiday options, including those run by Dementia Adventure. For a full list of dementia-friendly holidays for all-ages, see Young Dementia UK.

As with everything in dementia care, be guided by the person. I have seen examples where a person’s dementia has made them too frightened to explore what feels like the vastness of the outside world, and in those circumstances finding small ways to bring the outside inside – through houseplants or recreating a sandy beach – can help to give the person some of the benefits of the outside world without them going beyond their comfort zone. And remember that a chair well-placed by a window with a view can still give a glimpse of the world beyond the walls.

 

About the author:

Beth Britton is a leading campaigner, consultant, writer and blogger whose father had vascular dementia for 19 years. Beth is also a Skills for Care Endorsed Training Provider. More information on Beth’s website: https://www.bethbritton.com

Promedica24:

To find out more about how Promedica’s live-in care can help your loved one to enjoy an outdoor life, please call 0800 086 8686 or email care@promedica24.co.uk


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