Measuring the benefits of the outdoors for people living with dementia

Evaluation report: executive summary

Dr Alex Wagstaffe and Wendy Brewin, Sensory Trust

The three-year Creative Spaces project started in September 2009 with the aim to create dementia-friendly communities and environments.

We created the Creative Spaces project in response to evidence gathered from consultation with people with dementia. underpinned by creating methods to improve the physical, social and psychological wellbeing of older people with dementia living in residential care, health care settings and their own homes in Cornwall. This was implemented through the use of outdoor environments and outdoor-related activities with, for example, sensory-rich visits to places of interest around Cornwall, growing plants for their garden areas and lively conversations across age groups.

Fetes, workshops and events brought people together, sparking new friendships between young and old, and raising awareness of dementia. At Trevarna Nursing Home in St Austell new garden areas were created with residents, staff, families and local communities, inspired by their wishes and desires. People with dementia in the community were given a voice by expressing themselves through creative activities and interviews.

On average, the home carers (non-professional) such as husbands and wives of older people with dementia interviewed had been caring for their loved-ones for 2 years 9 months. 94% responded positively to the outdoors being accessible and important to them (the remainder were physically not fit enough to go outdoors). The Creative Spaces activities were endorsed by all (100%) and they were found to increase communication between participants and home carers. Moreover, the activities were found to reduce levels of agitation and increase levels of brightness.

Generally, the positive effects on wellbeing were found to last for varying lengths of time, depending on activity and the individual, and could range from “for the rest of the afternoon” to “for weeks – watching the bulbs growing”. A central theme to the responses regarding the outdoors was the importance of their garden, possibly due to greater familiarity and ease of access as an extension of the home environment.

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“The proof of the pudding? People are still talking about the sessions 6 months and a year on – and they would like the team to come back.”

Find out more about the evidence of need

Residents and staff out in the new care home garden at Trevarna Care Home

nature materials used in creative dementia activities

Ernie, 82 and living with dementia, enjoying some garden-related activities