My favourite place is by the sea, any sea – North, South, East or West, I’m not fussy so long as the sea air hits my face and enters my lungs. I feel instantly better. Indeed in the Victorian times, visiting the seaside and sea bathing was prescribed as a cure for most ills – physical and mental. A breath of fresh air can sometimes do more than just help you breathe better and this is particularly so for those with dementia.
Research has shown that the health of people with dementia who can spend as little as 10 to 15 minutes of activity a day outside see significant improvement in their well being and studies published in the Journal of Aging and Health showed that spending time outdoors every day can help all older people function better in their lives. Not everyone can make it to the coast but just getting outside – any outside, seeing the sky, enjoying the fresh air and sunlight can generally make us feel better and improve health. For people who are stuck inside hospitals or care homes, getting outside can be a greatly beneficial treatment that is often overlooked, more needs to be done to get people with dementia outside.
Once outside, the benefits of being physically active have been shown to improve the symptoms of dementia. Walking has a range of physical and wellbeing benefits that can improve the quality of life for people in all stages of the condition and for their carers too. Studies have shown that planned walking three times a week for people with Alzheimer’s disease resulted in significant benefits in their ability to communicate. To that end, there are growing numbers of groups specifically for those with dementia to meet up and go for a short walk a few times a week. Designed to stimulate the senses, these walks are undertaken with volunteers who have attended dementia awareness training, take place in accessible locations away from busy roads and cover flat terrain. Surrounded by nature and the countryside whilst making new friends and keeping active – it is the best of all worlds and the hope is to recruit and train more and more volunteers up and down the country so that they become available to as many people as possible.
If going for a walk is no longer an option, just getting out of the house, hospice or hospital can be beneficial. Sitting in the sun and looking at nature, eating outside, reading a newspaper or just enjoying a cup of tea – such small things that cost little to nothing but can mean so much. Getting outside in the sun tops us up with Vitamin D, a deficiency of which in adults can cause tiredness, aches and pains, severe bone or muscle pain, an increased risk of several chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases and stress fractures – problems really not needed if you are already dealing with dementia. Any exposure to bright light or daylight can make a real difference to our wellbeing.
Aside from all of the medical reasons – getting outside and seeing the world helps to maintain a sense of identity and improve self-esteem, it preserves interaction with the world and this can help to stimulate brain function – things that are vital to enable us to live well with dementia.