All the time I hear of great ways care home staff engage residents with nature and the outdoors. One was a song trail around a care home garden, with song titles chalked on the ground at various points to encourage people to spend time outside following the trail. Many homes have bird tables or window feeders so residents can enjoy watching birds at close hand. Some have visits from therapy animals or miniature ponies. And so many use brilliant art and craft ideas inspired by nature, some using found natural materials.
Even opening windows so residents can feel fresh air, on mild days, is a stimulus. For a 2009 study by the Care Commission and Mental Welfare C ommission found that half of all care home residents with dementia never go outside. This is understandable: dementia can make people fearful of going outdoors, of any change from the familiar. Many will also have mobility issues, making it difficult to go out. Some people with dementia struggle with motivation or become withdrawn. There are also health and safety issues to consider. However, any opportunity to go outside sometimes or to experience nature in other ways would obviously be positive for many residents.
It’s become well known that trees calm people. Even looking at photos or pictures of trees has been found to speed recovery from illness or surgery, which is worth knowing for people who may be unable to spend time actually amidst trees. Tree photos on care home walls could create a calming setting. Growing houseplants inside the home could also link residents to nature.
Without thinking, we usually experience nature through all our senses some of the time – seeing a view, hearing wind rustle or rain fall, smelling cut grass, even touching garden plants or tasting homegrown salad. Even a small outdoor space can become a sensory garden, with wind chimes, a simple water feature, solar lights and plants chosen for their scent and the sound they make. But people can also experience nature across the senses while indoors. Scented houseplants or listening to audio and video clips of birdsong and other natural sounds could help.
People who have dementia but live independently may be even less likely to get outside, particularly if they live alone. Loss of confidence can strand them indoors, and they may have no garden at all.
The Netherlands is one country which has led the way in enabling people with dementia to connect with nature through care farming. This is day care with a difference, where people help with tasks on the farm as their dementia and mobility allow, or simply enjoy the setting. Care farming is also now growing in the UK, but particularly for people with mental health issues, many of whom are younger people, rather than with adementia focus. This could open up many new possibilities to complement day care, and move it outside.
Obviously some people like being indoors, and would find the setting of a care farm unfamiliar and distressing. But across a wide spectrum of older people with dementia, connecting with nature more regularly could really enhance life. Do you have thoughts to share? It would be great to hear any responses in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Thank you!