Understanding Dementia – The Benefits of Getting Outdoors
By Mary Bates, MS, CT, Certified Dementia Practitioner
The Alzheimer’s Association notes that fresh air and some exercise in their daily routine greatly benefits people with dementia. Studies indicate that being outside can alleviate stress and anxiety, is a mood lifter, improves self-esteem, confidence, and happiness, and helps people feel less lonely and isolated.
Getting outdoors helps to provide a daily dose of Vitamin D, which is essential for their physical and mental health. It also gives them the opportunity to interact with other people, increasing their socialization and helping them feel connected with their community.
Ensuring that your loved one reaps all of the benefits of getting outside on a regular basis can seem daunting as your first instinct may be to keep them indoors to keep them safe.
However, with (just) a little thought and advanced planning you can begin to incorporate outdoor activities into your loved one’s daily schedule.
Here are just a few ways to help them get outside to walk, exercise, relax, socialize or just be outdoors feeling the sun on their faces and the wind in their hair.
- Plant A Garden: Plan something simple that your loved one can take care of, like a window box or a planter on your porch, patio or in the backyard. Tending to plants can provide a feeling of accomplishment as well as the joy that comes from watching something grow.
- Exercise: Take a daily walk around the block, in a park or on a trail. Physical activity helps keep people mobile and flexible. Dress appropriately for the weather, with sturdy shoes.
- Plan a Picnic: Have your loved one help you to choose simple foods for your outing. Pack up the food, grab a few lawn chairs or a blanket, and then head to the park or lake or even the backyard to enjoy your picnic feast.
- Go Out for Ice Cream: Almost everyone loves ice cream, and taking your loved one out for a cone can help them recall similar experiences from their childhood or when they took their own kids to the local ice cream stand.
- Take a Ride: Allow your loved one to set the itinerary. It could be a trip to the beach, to see a house they used to live in, or just around the block. The destination isn’t important, but the opportunity to see another part of town and the opportunity to talk with them about what they notice is.
- Bird Watching: Seeing and hearing the birds in your yard or on a nature trail can be a multi-sensory experience for your loved one. A pair of lightweight binoculars can help enhance the experience.
- Outdoor Concerts: Many communities offer outdoor summer concerts, and listening to music is both enjoyable and mood-boosting.
Planning simple outdoor activities in any season, tailored to your loved one’s interests, can be fun for both of you and can help to keep everyone interested and engaged in the world around them.
Mary Bates, MS, CT, is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She is the Assisted Living and Memory Care Director of Summit by Morrison, a senior living community offering independent living, assisted living, memory care, and respite care.
Through this column, Mary will share the experience, knowledge, and resources she and her team rely on, anticipating that it will be useful for anyone living with, caring for, or coming into contact with a person with dementia. Send your questions to Understanding Dementia at Summit, 56 Summit Drive, Whitefield, NH 03598 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Mary will share information and answer as many questions as possible through this column. Learn more about Summit by Morrison at www.themorrisoncommunities.org.