The outdoors. There's nothing more invigorating and restorative than a slow contemplative walk, along country lanes, across fields, through woods, by streams, in the hills, on the beach. There is so much physical, emotional and spiritual pleasure to be felt in such places.
I cannot imagine not being able to go into the elements, to feel the sun, wind and rain on my face, yet few older residents in care homes get to go out much, if at all. And for most of those with dementia, a trip out is even less likely, even though nearly everyone loves nature.
It was no surprise then, to read that a new study has found that nature films have been found to reduce anxiety and the symptoms of 'sundowning' in people in the early stages of dementia. This psychological condition is so-called because as the light fades at the end of the day, people living with dementia may display symptoms of increased restlessness and confusion.
Recently, Honorary research fellow at Exeter University, Dr Craig Knight, worked in partnership with Somerset Care and video production company Calmer By Nature, to explore whether DVDs of the British countryside had a beneficial impact on residents with dementia, particularly late in the afternoon.
“We found that playing nature DVDs has a calming, (if transitory) effect on residents, although playing them too often had a negative effect – people would avoid watching them. Nevertheless, we do seem to have found something with a topical, general short term and possibly individual long term benefit,” says Dr Knight.
I wonder if perhaps this issue is a bit like some other activities designed to stimulate people living with dementia. The pleasure is to be found just 'being in the moment', but you don't necessarily want the moment to be endleessly repeated.
At one care home, residents watch the DVDs as a group and talk together about the memories the films illicit afterwards, encouraging them to talk to one other and giving them the confidence to do this.
Care staff report that the DVDs help reduce stress in residents with dementia – and provide a lovely atmosphere for the staff. As they say, everybody instinctively feels comfortable with nature. Few would argue with that.