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Encouraging someone with dementia to get outdoors

If you’re caring for someone with dementia you probably want to take them out but may have lots of concerns about the risks and practical problems you might face. Here’s some information that might help

Could this be you?

You like the idea of going out and know that it can bring lots of benefits for people with dementia but…

–  You can’t help worrying – what if they get lost?
–  They don’t seem bothered about going out
–  They can’t walk far – where would you go?

Here’s how to make going outside a safe and enjoyable experience for both of you.

What if they don’t want to go?

Whilst some people with dementia absolutely love going out, others get anxious or show little interest in the idea, and might need persuasion and reassurance. If you want to take them to a favourite park try showing them a photograph and having a conversation about a time you’ve been there before. A bit of reminiscence can make them feel calmer and more positive about trying something different.

Don’t just talk and talk and try to persuade them by wearing them down. If they really don’t want to budge, you’ll have to accept it. Respect their feelings and try again another time.

Almost ready?

It’s worth doing a quick check before you head out

1. Are they wearing comfortable, sturdy shoes?
2. Will they be warm enough – or too hot?
3. Have they been to the loo?
4. Have they got ID? Whether it’s a name and your phone number sewn into a coat, an identity card in their pocket or an identity bracelet or necklace, it’s wise to make sure they have something on them if you’re concerned about wandering.
5. Have you got your phone?

Tip: It might be worth giving your loved one a cheap phone, too. Put it in their pocket, without any lock on, and with an ‘in case of emergency’ phone number, (ie, your phone number) so if you do get separated and someone tries to help them, they will be able to contact you.

Places to go, people to see

Start small
Fit a small outdoor activity into their daily care plan whenever possible. For example, if you have a garden, make it as safe and interesting as possible and do some gardening together. Or, weather permitting, simply sit outside with a cup of tea.

No garden? No problem
Try the nearest green space or local shop – no more than a ten minute walk away from home.

Going further

Whether it’s a park, a shopping trip, a social group, or a full day out at the sea, follow these three simple rules.

1) Make it safe
Carrying identity cards and phones (see above) and staying close together should ensure you both stay safe. Of course there are no guarantees but if the benefits of going out seem to outweigh the benefits of staying at home, it’s surely a risk worth taking – and one they would thank you for.

Tip: If they need to use a public loo don’t be afraid to go to the front of the queue and quietly explain. You could also consider showing a simple identity card) to anybody who asks. Remember, dementia is a disability and their needs should take priority.

2) Make it fun
Exploring nature can be very enjoyable and a great mood booster for both of you, so whether it’s being guided around a park, taking a woodland walk, or having a picnic, just do what they can manage.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to go out in bad weather. As long as they’re wrapped up warm and wearing suitable clothing being in the fresh air and feeling the wind on their face can still be a welcome distraction.

3) Make it mean something
Take a trip down memory lane. You could go back to an area they used to live or work near, a place they used to visit when the children were young, or a museum they would enjoy (wartime exhibitions can bring back vivid memories) and which you could amble around at your own pace.

Tip: You could take photos of the day so you can create a photo collage or online album to look through a few days later as a memory aid.

Don’t worry…

…if the outing is a disaster and you end up coming home feeling tired and demoralized. Maybe you were too ambitious? Or maybe they just weren’t in the mood.

Next time

– Choose a different time of day
– Stay nearer home
– Ask for help – maybe it was too difficult on your own. Don’t be afraid to call for support. Whether it’s a neighbour, grandchildren, or an old friend of theirs, you might be surprised at how many people are willing to come along with you. The more, the merrier!