Today I visited my father who has Pick's Disease, which is essentially a rare form of dementia. One of the characteristics of his disease is a loss of language, which in Dad's case is now very evident, and he finds it difficult to put a name to most objects. He does still, however, clearly enjoy our days out, which typically take the form of exploring the surrounding countryside around the residential unit in which he now lives, in Somerset.
Today was no exception. 'Can we go to the high things at the side' (Cheddar Gorge), 'where the Queens are' (the wild goats) and the 'Churches go right to the top' (The bonkers climbers we see there which totally amaze Dad!) So we duly set off and had a lovely drive through Cheddar Gorge with Dad pointing out all the kids and queens in the fields (animals) followed by a huge lunch in our favourite pub. Which got me thinking. I spend a lot of time considering the virtues of spending time in wild settings for the kids and myself, but how might these settings be of benefit to people with dementia?
My father clearly loves our trips out, but is that simply because he gets to escape the confines of care for a few hours or something more?
In March this year Natural England published their report Is it nice outside? A collaborative study between Natural England, Dementia Adventure, Mental Health Foundation and Innovations in Dementia. The report will be used as a basis to address the barriers which prevent people with dementia from engaging and benefiting from the natural environment, and is part of the wider Outdoors for All campaign, which seeks to ensure that everyone has equal access to nature and it's benefits.
The literature review which proceeded Natural England's report suggested that the evidence of the benefits to people with dementia of spending time in natural settings is difficult to quantify, and often qualitative. This makes a lot of sense, the nature of the disease means that much research must be based around carer's perceptions of how a person benefits, particularly as the disease develops. In Dad's case, I believe that he does enjoy being out and about in the fresh air, and is stimulated by the nature we see, but it could be argued that what he really benefits from, is being out with someone who is relaxed and happy themselves in that environment.
Whether the benefits are real or perceived, I am very grateful to have found a way for my Dad and I to enjoy our time together.