Finding Healing from Dementia Outdoors
There’s both stimulation and comfort in Mother Nature
(Editor's Note: This is the third in a series examining and interpreting a commonly used "bill of rights" for dementia patients.)
As we look back at a record-breaking season for snow in much of the United States, we also look ahead to spring. We imagine feeling the warmth of sunshine on our face, smelling the flowers that are blooming and hearing children playing in the park.
While these visions will come true for most of us, millions of people with Alzheimer’s or a similar debilitating disease find themselves unable to enjoy such routine pleasures.
Instead, they are confined to the indoors because they have lost either their cognitive ability to choose and communicate their desire to be outdoors or their physical ability to move about freely. Many Alzheimer’s patients are confined for their own physical safety without much regard to their spirit.
Yet, it’s unnatural for a person to be restricted to the indoors; our own body and mind tells us this when we get cabin fever. The Best Friends Dementia Bill of Rights, which provides a guideline for how to treat those with cognitive disease, includes the right to be outdoors on a regular basis.
Even when the weather doesn’t cooperate, caregivers can open the blinds to let in light or so the person with dementia can watch rain patter or see snow fall. On pleasant days, if a patient can’t be moved for some reason, maybe a window can be opened to allow fresh air and the sound of birds chirping to fill the room.
When possible, people should be encouraged and helped to go outside. They should be allowed to go at their own pace and soak in the great outdoors. Simply being outside stimulates our senses — the wind on our face, the smell of a barbeque, the sound of neighbors laughing, the sight of a bird soaring or the feel of the sun warming our skin.
The sun is a natural healer with its supply of vitamin D for healthy skin, bones and immune system. Plus, sunshine helps maintain our body’s natural circadian rhythm, which can lead to better sleep.
Helping a friend or loved one with dementia enjoy the outdoors should be a priority. Making it part of a daily routine will have a positive effect on mental and physical well-being for the person with dementia and for the caregiver, too.
Depending on each person’s interests and abilities, there are many things you can do together outdoors, including container gardening, picking up leaves, pulling weeds, going for a walk, bird watching or simply relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. Remember, it’s about creating moments of joy.
Being outdoors and enjoying nature is something most of us crave and need. Mother Nature cares for us and helps us heal in ways I can’t fully articulate but that I know are critical to those with memory impairment.
How do you help your loved one or friend enjoy the outdoors? Please share in the comments below.