Mar 10, 2021

Getting out into nature to help older people with cognitive decline

Senior Adult Famale working on farm with thirty plus year model pickup with beautiful landscape and cloud formations in background on a clear December day in Western Colorado

A new research project is helping older people living with dementia feel more active, independent and connected to their community. 

Led by the University of Exeter in the UK, the research project called ENLIVEN is aiming to improve older people’s quality of life through increased connection with their natural environment. 

According to the University of Exeter, research has shown that people living with dementia get a number of valuable benefits from spending time outdoors.

Outdoor activity can help people living with dementia experience increased feelings of independence, meaningful occupation, social inclusion, enhanced sense of identity and self-esteem, and can stimulate their memory and senses. 

Research has also found that for people who are at risk of developing dementia or other cognitive impairments, spending time outdoors and engaging with their natural world can help to prevent, reduce or slow cognitive decline. 

However, for many people who are living with cognitive impairments, chances to get outside and engage with the natural environment can be few and far between.

Travel costs and accessibility, safety concerns and group management can all play parts in the difficulties of organising a day out in nature with older people living with cognitive impairments. 

ENLIVEN will aim to work with businesses, social enterprises and organisations to develop and test methods of overcoming these barriers and expanding social accessibility so older people can benefit from time outdoors. 

“We believe that outdoor activity in nature, whether it’s a walk around a local park or a day trip to a place that attracts visitors, really can enable people with cognitive impairment to live better, richer and ultimately longer lives,” said Professor Linda Clare, Professor of Clinical Psychology of Ageing and Dementia and Director of the Centre for Research in Ageing and Cognitive Health (REACH), and the project’s Chief Investigator in a statement. 

“In ENLIVEN, we aim to work with organisations to put in place innovative ways of facilitating this greater engagement with the natural world by addressing some of the barriers and obstacles people with dementia are facing.”

The project will also work to reduce social and economic inequalities by working with older people who have experienced a wide range of disadvantages, including working with minority cultural groups, and people from socio-economically disadvantaged areas. 

“There is a growing recognition globally that actively engaging in outdoor-based recreation and experiencing nature in its many forms can contribute to the wellbeing of people with cognitive impairment and dementia,” said Dr Joanne Connell, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management at the University of Exeter Business School.

“Visitor-facing businesses and organisations have a role to play in helping people with cognitive impairment and their carers to access and enjoy outdoor recreation in natural places and spaces, and we look forward to working with them to address the barriers facing people who are living with these ‘hidden conditions’.”

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