Nurture and Nature!
13th January, 2021
In our first Community Makers Forum of 2021, Vivienne Depledge shared the experience of Dementia Adventures as they have adapted to the varying circumstances through the COVID pandemic.
Dementia Adventure is a service that was very much rooted in the physical experiences of taking people affected by dementia into the outside world, whether on day trips or holidays tailored to individual needs. Being outside, experiencing nature, providing in-person support to people with dementia and carers was what they were all about.
Clearly this model of engagement was not viable through the lock-down, and in January 2021, the current rules and risks of in-person engagement are as restrictive as ever. The new, more contagious strain of COVID, and hospitals at capacity make the prospect of getting the virus very worrisome for vulnerable people. Hopefully the emerging vaccination programme will ease this situation quickly, but the fear that people justifiably feel is keeping them from getting the benefits of being outside, and experiencing the natural world. There are numerous studies on the psychological and physiological benefits of being outside, and we have to be careful that the harm missing out (manifest in depression, anxiety, loneliness, loss of physical fitness in both people with dementia and carers) could outweigh the risks.
In the midst of all this, Dementia Adventure have adapted their support to help people in isolation. Vivienne painted a compelling picture of how valuable nature is to people affected by dementia, how as brain functions deteriorate it is often the emotional capacity that is retained, and given increased importance in the individual’s well-being. Nature, and the outdoors, has a unique value in creating positive emotional experiences, through stimulating all the senses, from smell, to temperature changes, light filled vistas to physical exercise.
Bringing the outdoors in
Vivienne described the value of bringing elements of nature into the house, to give people who are isolating a connection to the outdoors, providing stimulus for conversation based on the present moment, and building up a will to get back outside and experience nature again.
Building confidence to re-engage
After the first lockdown eased, Dementia Adventure supported some couples to build confidence in going out again, by planning and accompanying them on trips to historic sites or beauty spots with social distancing measures in place. Participants fed back that getting out again had a noticeable reversing effect of the deterioration in dementia symptoms experienced during isolation, increasing levels of conversation and engagement in the person with dementia.
Advocating and supporting DIY adventures at home
Through the pandemic, Dementia Adventure have motivated and supported people remotely to go out their front door within their family support bubbles. There is a need to overcome people’s low mood and fear of going outside to help them get these valuable benefits.
Developing free-to-access training courses
Dementia Adventure have also developed fully funded, free-to-access training available through their website to teach people how to make the most of nature and the outdoors to support people with dementia.
The power of these initiatives was demonstrated to the meeting via four recorded conversations with people with dementia. In these films, people described how their experiences of getting in touch with nature had been so beneficial to them. Recorded as a bi-product of the video based communication necessary during the pandemic, one person described his mission to photograph a waterfall one last time, and the sense of achievement and independence it gave him after being cooped up for so long.
Another described how he often went to the garden ‘to shed a tear’ privately, but found solace in discovering a hedgehog in his garden. This experience took him away from his dementia, and opened up a new therapeutic relationship with the wildlife on his doorstep, a pass-time he now shares with his cat!
A further participant described the importance of working with technologies that people already use to support this kind of activity, learning to use them iteratively, rather than jumping into a new technology.
The forth video described how asking a carer to bring in elements of nature into her home had opened up her desire to go outside, resulting in her re-taming her garden and getting pleasure from the activity and setting.
As Shirley Evans from the Association for Dementia Studies and the UK Meeting Centres Support Programme described in the conversation afterwards, nature is an equaliser. It is free to access, and engages you in the present which works for people with dementia. Nature removes dependence and hierarchy, and asks for little in return. It has a unique quality of being ever available, while at the same time holding the power to evoke specific memories in all of us through stimulation of all the senses.
Ruth from Dementia Adventure described how they were now planning online events to facilitate participants to share experiences and encourage each other to experience the outdoors independently. Something that emerged naturally in their training sessions.
Vivienne’s presentation was a great way to start the year in the Community Makers network as it gave us optimism for the year to come, amongst some of the gloom of the current state of affairs. The first benefit of the vaccines that we will all feel is surely that we can hope to enjoy the summer, see friends and family outdoors, in gardens, parks, and public places, which will be of huge benefit to all of us.
Shirley summarised the discussion very neatly when she said that Vivienne’s approach was ” … both inspiring, calming and full of hope. The videos were super and very memorable and impactful. As Vivienne mentioned, much of what was said applies to everyone and never more so.”
Dementia Adventure’s free Dementia Skills Sessions provide practical guidance for family and friends supporting somebody living with dementia. Book here.
Learn more about Dementia Adventure.