Spending time with someone with dementia outdoors

Living with dementia doesn’t mean being holed up indoors where it’s ‘safe’ – getting outside each day can bring all kinds of benefits both physically and mentally. Here’s why…

If a loved one is diagnosed with dementia your instinct will probably be to protect them and keep them safe. Going out might start to feel daunting and stressful. Isn't it better that they stay at home where you can keep a careful watch? Well no, actually, it isn't.

Stay at home and you deny the person you're caring for an experience that can provide physical, psychological and social benefits. Not only that but getting outside has also been found to ease agitation and aggression and some of the other challenging behaviours you might have to cope with at home.

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What are the physical benefits of getting outdoors?

Whether it’s a five minute walk around the garden, or a trip to a nearby park, getting outside can really help improve physical health in someone with dementia. Whilst any form of exercise is good if you have dementia, exercise taken outside is even better

Benefits include:
- Improved sleep and reduced restlessness
- Improved diet
- Improved activity and exercise levels
- Improved awareness
- Increased verbal expression
- Improvement in memory

Did you know? A 2007 study compared the experiences of 20 people living with dementia. Half of them undertook an indoor programme of physical activity indoors, and the other half did outdoor activities. While both groups found their sleep improved, the outdoors group started to sleep for longer and showed less signs of verbal agitation.

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What are the psychological benefits of getting outdoors?

Dementia can cause a range of psychological challenges and behaviours, which getting outdoors has been found to help. There are also numerous emotional benefits to the great outdoors, as a study carried out by Neil Mapes, director of Dementia Adventure, revealed.

Benefits include:
- Mood enhancement, reduced stress levels
- Spiritual uplift
- Having more control
- Stronger sense of self
- Reduced aggression and agitation

What are the social benefits of getting outdoors?

One of the hardest things about living with dementia can be dealing with feelings of loneliness and isolation. An Alzheimer’s Society report from 2012 found that 61% of people with dementia were lonely some or all of the time. Stepping outside however can definitely help to ease this.

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Benefits include:
- Increased social interaction and encounters
- Sense of belonging
- Sense of friendship and kinship
- Community benefit

Did you know? A 2008 study highlighted the importance of outdoor social interaction. The study noted that if someone with dementia was unable to get outdoors, it often reduced their ability to socialise, which in turn had a negative effect on their mental well-being.

Where do you go from here?

Being given the option to get outdoors is clearly an important part of living well with dementia, so whether it’s for social interaction, emotional wellbeing, exercise, fresh air or appreciation of the countryside or green spaces, getting outside is definitely worth encouraging wherever possible.

For more tips and advice on getting out and about when you have dementa, and what you need to think about in terms of activities and safety, click here.