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Engaging people living with dementia, and their carers, with nature

As human beings we all need contact and connection with the outdoors, with fresh air and nature in all its various forms. A raft of evidence tells us what we intuitively know to be true: that activity and simply getting outdoors is good for us; and people with dementia are no different. It therefore saddens us when we hear about the various scenarios for the thousands of families faced with advancing stages of dementia where access to outdoor spaces and activities can be seen as a ‘nice to have’, or impossible for some.

April 2016

However we know that, with careful support, people with significant health and social care needs can get out into the garden, smell the flowers and listen to the birds. Additionally, people are receiving their diagnosis earlier which is opening more doors – again, with the right support anything is possible.

Since 2009 Dementia Adventure has been providing training, support and research services to assist those organisations that come into contact with people with dementia on a day-to-day basis to implement the benefits of nature-based interventions and positive risk-taking in the lives of people with dementia – including a number of local services and locations managed by the Woodland Trust, Wildlife Trusts and the National Trust. Furthermore, last month our latest piece of research was published by Natural EnglandIs It Nice Outside? – which details the results of consultation with people living with dementia and family carers about their engagement with the natural environment. The study was a collaborative project between Natural England, Dementia Adventure, the Mental Health Foundation and Innovations in Dementia.

The report reveals that engaging in outdoor activities that have a purpose and those that involve being with other people provides the greatest motivation for people living with dementia:

  • Informal walking was the most commonly mentioned activity by people living with dementia and carers.
  • Only 20% of the people living with dementia considered that their condition was a barrier to using outdoor spaces, whereas 83% of carers believed that dementia limited the person’s ability.
  • 25% of people said they take part in wildlife watching, especially bird watching several times a week or every day.
  • Places associated with water (inland, coast, natural, artificial) were the most popular places to visit for people with dementia.
  • Transport and mobility were the found to be most significant barriers for both people with dementia and their carers to access outdoor spaces.

We’re really pleased to share the results of this partnership project which builds on our previous work with Natural England and the Woodland Trust – Greening Dementia – an evidence report into the benefits and barriers to engagement with the natural environment for those living with dementia that was published in 2013. We hope it will be beneficial to people and organisations across the UK and encourage people to read and share the research report and take action on its recommendations. Is it nice outside? For many people living with dementia and their family carers the answer is yes, people want and need to get out into the fresh air, to walk, be near water and watch and listen to the birds. The fact that these simple outdoor pleasures are not equally accessible for some of the thousands of families living with dementia is another reminder for us to work across care and conservation boundaries and implement the solutions contained in the report.

The findings from this consultation will now be used to help design a large-scale demonstration project to deliver services in the natural environment for people living with dementia and their carers. The recommendations will also be valuable to other natural environment providers in shaping projects to further their work with people living with dementia.

And for us, our vision is to continue to facilitate the opportunity for more people living with dementia to be connected to themselves, with nature and with their communities. We are therefore looking to expand our work through licenced partners with our new offer Dementia Adventure in a Box. By developing a social licence model, it is a way for us to help others to do
what we do and increase the reach and social impact of our work. We want to partner with organisations with shared values and to grow the opportunities for outdoor activities for people with dementia – like many of the members of the Wildlife and Countryside Link, united by their common interest in the conservation and enjoyment of the natural and historic environment.

To learn more about the licence or for more information about the services we can offer, please contact us on 01245 237548. You can also follow us @DementiaAdv. To read the full report ‘Is it nice outside? - Consulting people living with dementia and their carers about engaging with the natural environment’ click here.

Neil Mapes

Managing Director, Dementia Adventure

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership