“I can’t imagine a world where I couldn’t enjoy outdoor pleasures whenever I want,” said Mike Good, founder of Together in This. As I listened to Mike’s Podcast on the power of nature, I thought of my mother. Mom taught me to love birds, flowers, trees, and mountains. Even in her last days, a yellow rose could catch her attention, inspire her to reach out and touch its tender petals. This simple activity helped boost body and spirit with nature.
There’s increasing research that backs up what I observed with my mom. Strolling or wheeling around a courtyard, sitting on a bench underneath an apple tree, observing a bunny nibble clover, watching someone water a tomato plant — all these outdoor events enhance physical and mental well-being, including improving sleep cycles and reducing agitation.
Garuth Chalfont, PhD, American Society of Landscape Architects, and author of the book, Dementia Green Care, says, “Nature-oriented activities, such as growing and caring for plants, promote brain neuroplasticity and help us dream, experiment, learn and create. Research shows that nature-based activity is therapeutic and is essentially a form of treatment for dementia symptoms, helping a person remain at home longer.” Garuth is internationally known for his work in designing, building, and researching gardens that benefit people with dementia.
Mike Good says, “The feel of sunshine on my face, the smell of flowers blooming, the sounds of kids frolicking in the park — while these pleasures naturally occur for most of us, millions of people who are living with dementia find themselves unable to enjoy such routine pleasures without assistance”
Taking a loved one who is living with dementia outdoors can be stressful, but staying cooped up inside is hard on both of you. Here is a bouquet of nature’s benefits, inspiring for both people who are living with dementia and those who care for them.
Relaxing outdoor activities
Gardening activities, such as container gardening, planting seeds, watering, weeding, harvesting, sharing flowers and fruits and vegetables
Walking around the yard or strolling through the neighborhood
Discussing people and dogs walking by, asking open-ended questions, such as “Where do you think they’re going?”
Installing a small fountain and a bench, then sitting and enjoying the sound of the water
Sharing a picnic lunch
Drawing or painting outdoors
For those who enjoy projects, have tools visible and available. For a woodworker, set out wood and sandpaper. For a frail gardener, have a container of herbs. For those who like to tidy the yard, offer gardening gloves and a bucket to deposit leaves and twigs.
Bringing Nature Indoors
Garuth says, “If going outdoors is not feasible, look around your living quarters and ask, ‘Where are the best outdoor views? Where is the most sunlight?’ You may need to cut down a light-blocking bush or move a sofa, but you will discover areas where you and your partner can enjoy sitting and watching nature.”
Open the curtains and blinds to let in light.
In temperate weather, open windows and welcome fresh air and birdsong.
Green up the room with houseplants.
Bring in flowers or herbs to stimulate the senses.
Create a comfortable viewing area, with feeders, so you can enjoy watching birds and squirrels.
Gather potting soil, water, and green bean seeds. Spoon the soil into small pots or into an empty egg carton. Place one seed in each and cover with soil, then pour in a little water.
“Touching soil and planting may trigger memories and ideas from earlier years,” Garuth says.
Gathering flowers, walking a tree-lined sidewalk, plucking a cherry tomato off its vine, watering a house plant, gazing out the window at chickadees — these meaningful natural activities increase pleasure, relaxation, social interactions, and sensory stimulation.
Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.