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Get Outside: How The Great Outdoors Benefits Those Living With Dementia

Matthew Ralph-Savage

For those living with dementia, coming to rely on caregivers more heavily often means they lose the ability to move freely in the world. In so many cases, individuals experiencing memory loss are prone to want to get outside and try to find ways to get away from the confines of their homes or apartments. It’s no coincidence that those living with dementia at early and advanced stages of the disease crave exposure to the outdoors.

The Calming Effect of Green Space

Study after study show that the great outdoors has a positive impact on mental health across socioeconomic status, age, and cultural background. In a long-term study, Denmark’s University of Aarhus showed that great exposure to tranquil, outdoor spaces was associated with lower risk of developing mental health disorders.

For those living with dementia, mounting anxiety can be a day-to-day stressor. Awareness of slipping faculties is enough to cause mental distress; further loss of independence and ability to make large life choices contributes or Alzheimer’s to elevated anxiety in many who are experiencing chronic memory loss.

Being outdoors can help to sooth the growing stress. Removing the boundaries and confines of an individual’s living space allows the mind to release fearful thinking around being trapped or hindered. The positive impact that engaging in green spaces can have on emotional wellbeing is a benefit enough for most who experience dementia.

The Benefit of Vitamin D

For those of us who live in climates with long, dark winters, there is an implicit understanding that Vitamin D plays an active and vital role in our psychology. Our bodies synthesize Vitamin D through exposure from the sun. For most of us, 10-15 minutes of the right sun exposure a few times a week can provide our bodies with all the Vitamin D we need.

A paucity of this crucial vitamin is associated with higher incidences of Dementia. Several studies have shown similar results: Vitamin D deficiency is associated with higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

With the risk factors presence, it is clear that time outside is only helpful for those experiencing dementia.

Familiar Places

The outdoors carries a significant place in our hearts, minds, and memories. Whether it is due to a wealth of experiences we’ve had in the outdoors or because of the many sights, sounds, and aromas that can evoke memories.

It’s no mystery that changing the stimuli that surrounds a person can help to engage different parts of the brain. The range of the stimuli that the outdoors provides is engaging to those living with dementia or Alzheimer’s and can help exercise lesser-accessed neural pathways.

Physical Activity

Finally, and not inconsequentially, there is the positive impact that moving one’s body can have on maintaining a high quality of life. Exercise helps to maintain a balance in sleep, cardiovascular, respiratory, and mental health. All of these aspects can have a positive impact on the prognosis and progression of dementia and its related symptoms

The positive impacts that getting outdoors for those living with dementia and their caregivers should not be underestimated. Taking a wholistic approach as a therapy to a disease that affects all aspects of life is sensible. Finding a way to tackle multiple points of stress at once is one of the best means to improve quality of life, exercise the mind and body, and provide new avenues for an individual with dementia to access their past and their present highest self.