I love being outdoors – the warm sun on my skin, the sound of a woodpecker nearby, the smell of flowers in bloom – all pleasures that I enjoy.
I can’t imagine a world where I couldn’t enjoy these pleasures whenever I want. Like a caged bird unable to spread its wings and fly, to me, that would be hell.
However, thousands, maybe millions of people with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia find themselves prisoners behind the doors of their own home or a memory-care facility. Caregivers are too “busy”, overwhelmed, or selfish to help them outside for some fresh air.
Listen to: The Alzheimer’s Podcast Episode 2:
How to Maximize the Healing Benefits of the Outdoors in Alzheimer’s Care
Everyone has a right to be outdoors on a regular basis and Mother Nature has a way of healing us. I discussed this more in my full-length article, Finding Healing from Dementia Outdoors, which was originally published on Next Avenue as part of my Dementia Bill of Rights series.
I’m republishing it below for your convenience:
Finding Healing from Dementia Outdoors
There’s both stimulation and comfort in Mother Nature
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.
(MORE: Dementia Patients Have the Right to Be Loved)
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 individuals 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.
(MORE: The Right to Get a Proper Dementia Diagnosis)
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 barbecue, 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 I know are critical to those with memory impairment.
Related TinT Article:
Balancing Safety and Joy for a Loved One with Dementia
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Henry Spencer says
AS always your comments are both insightful and useful…. well done!
I am currently in the process of completing a book on Alzheimer’s and one section deals with ‘wandering.”
I had heard of one care centre which had a traditional type garden maze? This facilitated both the urge to wander and the sensory stimulation i.e. by planting specific plants along the route.
I am aware that only to wealthier care Homes could afford this… but I think it would be so,so beneficial!
Mike Good says
When I picture a garden maze, I see one with walls where a person is challenged to find their way out. I don’t think this is what you mean, however. I have seen on the internet some really nice gardens developed for the enrichment of older adults with plants, bird feeders, benches, etc. along the pathways.
Unfortunately, most care facilities are older and don’t have the right layout to accomplish this properly. But with the right landscape architect, a lot could be accomplished, in my opinion. And there is really no excuse for a new facility to not incorporate meaningful gardens.
Thank you for your comment.