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Nature and stress
A six month research study carried out by a researcher from Exeter University has shown that watching nature films can reduce anxiety symptoms for people in the early stages of dementia. The research was done in two care homes over a six month period, and it was found that anxiety and stress levels were significantly reduced when nature DVDs were played as against when the films were not played. The research was reported by CareHome UK.
The films were of animals and birds in various natural settings, rivers, seaside and forests. The films were much more popular than the usual TV programmes, and staff noticed a considerable calming effect, particularly in the evening and bedtime hours. Used on an individual basis the films have been found to be very helpful for individuals: one care home activity co-ordinator spoke of basing it in their multi-sensory room. The watching experience was also used to promote discussion and social interactions, with associated benefits.
However, perhaps understandably, the calming effect reduced with repeated regular viewing of the DVDs.
The power of nature
The research ties in with other studies, which show that actual outdoors experience in nature, and general improved activity levels, are very helpful in maintaining health. Declining abilities can be dramatically slowed and improvements in health can occur.
It has been shown that regularly being outdoors, and particularly being among or close to trees and vegetation, has helped people to maintain their health and indeed to recover more quickly from illness or medical operations. While we often associate old age with declining ability and motivation, there are many examples where people have regained skills, or taken up new ones, in outdoor activities.
Outdoor kindergartens are common now in Scandinavia, where they were introduced in the 1950s, and are being introduced in several services here in Scotland. The forest school approach is a recognised model of assisting people, including troubled young people and their families, with their lives.
A project carried out in Tower Hamlets found that people with dementia were achieving better outcomes and improved quality of life when they were supported to visit local city farms, and to interact with the animals there.
Find ways to get closer to nature
So there is abundant evidence that interaction with nature and the outdoors is helpful, and not only for people with dementia. One manager made the insightful comment that perhaps it is the absence of natural experiences which can cause or contribute to some of our modern health problems.
There are many ways for care staff to promote outdoor and nature experiences: DVDs are clearly a useful tool here to help people with dementia. Carrying this forward to active outdoor experience in nature is a promising avenue to look at as we seek to help improve the lives of others.
Tony Clarke – QCS Expert Scottish Care Contributor