July 15, 2022
Safety and security are at the forefront of dementia care, especially as it progresses and symptoms become more pronounced. While being indoors can offer that sense of security, getting outside and spending time in nature can significantly benefit a person living with dementia.
At Franciscan Ministries, we know how beneficial being outside is – for those with or without dementia. We want to make sure you reap the benefits of being outside this summer by sharing how it positively impacts a person’s health and wellness.
One of the benefits of being outside is that it is a great way to stimulate all five senses. The National Library of Medicine shares, “As we age, our sensory functions decline contributing to an increased isolation from the outside world.” For people living with dementia, the chance of sensory change increases, as dementia can impact the parts of the brain associated with sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.
Fortunately, spending time outdoors can stimulate and engage the senses in a way that staying inside cannot. Imagine yourself sitting on a park bench. The sunlight filters through the trees and you feel it on your face. You can hear the birds chirping and the squirrels scurrying across the forest floor. The smell of fresh morning air fills your lungs, and the scenic landscape brings you a sense of calm. Your senses are stimulated, and you feel alert and more energized. This is a similar experience for those living with dementia.
Go a step further and encourage activities like gardening to provide a whole new level of sensory stimulation as well as additional benefits for your parent or family member living with dementia.
A common symptom associated with dementia is disrupted sleep patterns. This is due to changes in our inner circadian rhythm – the body’s natural clock that signals when it is time to be alert and when it is time to sleep.
In addition to limiting exposure to artificial lighting in the evening, spending time outside and getting plenty of exposure to natural light during the day can help reset this internal clock. This helps individuals have energy during the day and get restful, better quality sleep at night.
Vitamin D deficiency is common among older adults. As we get older, the skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D from the sun decreases, and most vitamin D is produced within the body in response to sunlight exposure.
Another benefit of being outside is that it increases our vitamin D intake. While sun exposure should be limited and combined with safety precautions, i.e., using sunscreen, it’s still an opportunity to naturally absorb vitamin D, which is vital to bone metabolism, calcium absorption and other metabolic processes.
While memory loss is one of the most common symptoms of dementia, it often affects a person’s short-term memory first, leaving their long-term memories intact. This is why an individual living with dementia could get confused about time and place, thinking they are still living in the past.
One of the benefits of being outside is that it can help preserve these long-term memories. For instance, if your family used to go on vacations to the beach growing up, taking a day trip to a beach is a good way to stimulate these memories. It does not have to be the same beach to have an effect – simply going to a similar environment and reminiscing with your loved one can help evoke emotions and memories and create a meaningful experience.
Taking trips like this regularly with your parent or family member keeps their mind active and can help to delay further cognitive decline.
Enjoying the outdoors and spending time in nature does not have to be a strenuous activity. Taking a walk through a park or sitting outside for a few minutes a day can provide numerous benefits for your loved one living with dementia (and yourself!).
At Franciscan Ministries, we understand the impact that compassionate, person-centered care can have on someone living with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. Throughout our memory care communities, we provide 24-hour services in a secure environment that provides residents with the dignity and respect they deserve while improving their quality of life.
Visit our website or contact a member of our team today to learn more about our memory care communities and services.