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Making the great outdoors more inclusive for people with dementia

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Topics: 
approaches to dementia care, carers, exercise

Natural England have just published an interesting new report: ‘Is it nice outside?’.  The report investigates how engagement with nature and the great outdoors can be improved for the benefit of people living with dementia.

There were a couple of findings that resonate particularly strongly with what we have found in our own work.

The first is that only 20% of people living with dementia who were consulted consider that their condition is a barrier to using outdoor spaces. In contrast, 83% of their carers believe that dementia limits the person’s ability.

This mirrors the cautious view and risk averse culture we find in many care settings. Our first job is often to reassure care staff that people living with dementia can work safely in the garden.

Of course we totally understand carers’ concerns.  Gardening is not risk free and we regularly frighten ourselves by running through all the things that could go wrong to make sure we have adequate safeguards in place. However, we argue that it is a much bigger risk for people with dementia to spend too much time indoors, being inactive and cut off from the sensory benefits of connecting with nature. We believe in a positive attitude to risk.  With proper risk management and lots of support from trained volunteers we have found that people with dementia can be active in the garden very safely.

The second is that some urban green spaces, such as community gardens, are underused by people with dementia.

Growing Support recently consulted 28 community gardens in Bristol and found that only one had previously supported people with dementia. Garden staff were concerned that they might not have sufficient resource to provide the necessary level of support.  People with dementia were worried about how they would get to the garden and if they would have someone to help them to work there.

By addressing these concerns we were able to set up a thriving gardening group for people with dementia in a community allotment. Allotment staff learned how to break down jobs into smaller, more manageable tasks and we introduced light, long handled tools that enable gardening from a wheelchair. A local day service provided transport and support. Very quickly the group were integrated into the allotment routine, producing food for the community kitchen and joining in with all the activities.

Other studies have shown that access to the natural environment has health and wellbeing benefits for people living with dementia including reduced stress, agitation and depression as well as improved self-esteem and sense of belonging.

We look forward to the day when nobody sees dementia as a barrier to enjoying the outdoors and accessing these benefits.

 

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