Recently I attended the launch of Dementia Friendly Havant at Spring Arts and Heritage Centre, organised by Dementia Friendly Hampshire in collaboration with Havant Borough Council. My colleague, Victoria, joined me.

We were treated to the the Travelling Dementia Suitcase and Pop-Up Dementia Theatre provided by Nature Therapy CIC. Dr Kim Brown, CEO and Founder of Nature Therapy CIC, gave a masterclass on the benefits for people living with dementia (and everyone) of stimulating all the senses and being outdoors experiencing nature. If a person’s mobility, living arrangements or health conditions mean that being outdoors is not possible, bringing the outdoors to their home environment is of immense value.

Kim, along with her colleague, Kitty, led the group in a drumming exercise to the Cherokee Morning Song, focusing on the rhythm of the heartbeat, tapping in to our earliest memories and uniting everyone with a calmness that was tangible.

We all then entered the pop-up theatre and engaged in activities that sensitised touch, smell, sound, sight and taste.

The progressive impact of dementia will affect how an individual experiences the world. The functioning of all senses are disrupted, people can lose their sense of taste and smell, whilst becoming more sensitive to noise and light. Problems with perception of depth and space are common features of several types of dementia. Nature Therapy uses natural resources to address sensory impairment. Research has demonstrated that sensory activities reduce agitation and anxiety and improve sleep patterns for people with dementia and alleviate stress for family carers.

The event in Havant reminded me of the work of Charlotte Overton-Hart. Charlotte is Project Lead for ‘Dementia Inclusive Gardening’ (DIG) on allotment Plot 22 in Brighton. Charlotte has written about her work for Unforgettable, click here to read her blog about DIG published last year.

As it is summer now, the warmer weather makes it easier for people with dementia to experience the outdoors. Fresh air and exercise promote good health for everyone, and this is nonetheless the case for people living with dementia. Research studies suggest that regular exercise reduces the risk of developing dementia. For people with a diagnosis, good health is vital for counteracting the damaging effects of dementia and living well.

There are many organisations that offer health promoting activities for people living with dementia and family carers. One such is the  Sensory Trust in Cornwall, which was featured on a BBC Countryfile programme earlier this year. Wendy Brewin, Creative Spaces Project Manager was interviewed about the benefits of walking for people living with dementia. She explained how outdoor activity has the effect of building confidence and improving mental health and well-being.

The Sensory Trust’s Creative Spaces project uses the outdoors to bring creativity, conversation and delight into the lives of people with dementia. A recent evaluation of the impact of this project found that the benefits to people living with dementia relate to improvements in physical, mental and social well-being.

The project bore witness to growth in confidence and happiness in individuals with dementia, and the formation of long-lasting friendships. The project helped people develop coping strategies to deal with tough periods in their lives and galvanised them to be more physically active, develop new shared interests and engage in community activities.

Family carers were encouraged to learn new ways to share meaningful times with those with dementia being cared for; plus the project provided access to informal support through meeting and sharing with other carers in similar situations.

Impacts on dementia care professionals were also measured and the outcomes included: refreshed approaches to providing care for people with dementia and recognition of the value of adding nature based interventions into care programmes.

If you are involved with a project that enables you and the person you care for to take part in outdoor activities, we would be pleased to hear from you. Email me at barbara@livebetterwith.com to let me know how nature enhances the quality of your life.

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