Being Outdoors Benefits People with Dementia & Those Worried About Developing It

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Want to find a good way to help ease agitation in people with dementia? What about a way to improve your own brain’s memory and creativity? And what about lowering stress levels and depression, both of which set you up for dementia later in life? According to researchers, one of the best – and easiest (not to mention cost-effective) – methods to achieve all of the above is to step outside. Yep, literally step outside. So just like plucking the petals off of a daisy, let me count the ways.

    Gardens and People with Dementia

    A new meta-analysis looked at the impact of gardens and outdoor spaces on both the mental and physical well-being of people who have dementia who live in a residential facility. In this study, the researchers identified 17 studies. These studies suggested that people with dementia experienced lower levels of agitation when exposed to a garden. The researchers suggested that the opportunity to reminisce about past events in the person’s life and to experience sensory stimulation were the two primary mechanisms triggered by visits to the garden. The gardens also offer a relaxing and calming environment for the person with dementia. Those residents who worked in the garden also had a chance to maintain life skills and habits.

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    Protecting Your Own Brain Function

    And I would suggest that being in the great outdoors also will help support your brain if you’re like me and worried about developing dementia in the future. Although I haven’t found any studies specifically on the link between dementia prevention and nature, here are some research studies that do offer some important findings:

    • Relieves stress – A study out of the University of Washington found that having a view of the outdoors and nature relieves stress better than being in a windowless room or viewing a digital picture of an outdoor scene.
    • Helps enhance creativity. A study out of the University of Utah and the University of Kansas found that backpackers scored 50 percent higher on a creative test after spending four days in nature where they did not have access to electronic devices.  Researchers found that backpackers who had been hiking four days scored an average of 6.08 correct answers on a 10- question assessment. In comparison, those who hadn’t begun their hiking trip had an average score of 4.14.
    • Increases cognitive ability. Researchers believe that exposure to nature results in significant measureable changes in the brain that help you think more clearly, focus better, and perform to your maximum cognitive ability.
    • Eases depression and improves memory. Researchers looked at whether walking in nature had any effect on major depressive disorder. This study involved 20 individuals who were diagnosed with depression. Participants’ mood and short-term memory were assessed at the start of the study. Participants were then asked to think about an unresolved negative event they’ve experienced prior to taking a 50-minute walk in either a natural or urban setting.  At the end of the walk, the participants’ mood and short-term memory were reevaluated. The researchers found that the participants who walked in nature had significant increases in memory and mood.

    These various studies strongly underscore the rejuvenating and calming effect that nature can have on both people with dementia and people who are worried about developing dementia. So I hope you’ll join me in stepping outside (or at least spending time looking out a window) today!

  • Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    Berman, M.G., et al. (2012). Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Affective Disorders.

    Griggs, M. B. (2014). Gardens may be therapeutic for dementia patients.

    Hiking Research. (2014). Five ways nature can prepare your brain for success in 2014.

    Kwak-Hefferan, E. (2012). Hiking makes you smarter. Backpacker.

    Song, K. M. (2008). UW study reaffirms nature’s stress relieving powers. Seattle Times.

    University of Utah. (2012). Nature nurtures creativity.

    Whear, R., et al. (2014). What is the impact of using outdoor spaces such as gardens on the physical and mental well-being of those with dementia? A systematic review of quantitative and qualitative evidence. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.

Published On: July 31, 2014