Measuring the benefits of the outdoors for people living with dementia

Evaluation report: executive summary

Wendy Brewin and Jane Stoneham, Sensory Trust 2018

Creative Spaces in the Community (CSiC) is a pioneering nature-based approach that is helping people with dementia maintain physically, socially and mentally active lives in their communities. It builds on the success of our earlier Creative Spaces work, adapting the principles we established in residential care and using them to benefit people living in their own homes in rural communities in Cornwall.

Over the last four years, Creative Spaces in the Community has benefited 705 people living with dementia, 833 unpaid carers and 427 community members, such as friends and relatives not providing regular care. In addition, 996 service providers (mainly health professionals like Primary Care Dementia Practitioners and paid carers), 156 young people aged 11 to 18 and 327 volunteers have also benefited from improved skills and knowledge about supporting people with dementia.

Benefits to people living with dementia relate to improvements in physical, mental and social wellbeing. The project has seen confidence and happiness grow in individuals; it has fostered long-lasting friendships and helped people develop coping strategies to deal with tough periods in their lives. It has motivated people to be more physically active, to develop new shared interests and to be more engaged in community activities. A key aim has been to give people the tools to help them improve their own day to day lives, which would enable them to remain independent for longer. 

Impacts on professional practice have also been strong. It has helped dementia professionals breathe new life into the care they provide and to realise the value of adding these practices into their care programmes. It has given family carers new ways in which they can share meaningful times with their loved ones and provided access to informal support through meeting and sharing with others in similar situations.

Across the UK, and in Australia, USA and Canada, the approach has been enthusiastically welcomed by dementia care organisations. It has also provided a focus for collaborative research with the University of Exeter, and for being actively engaged in networks such as the Dementia Action Alliance in Cornwall.

Outcomes were delivered through the following actions:

▪ Outdoor activity clubs, providing opportunities to benefit from outside exercise, social interactions and access to nature

▪ Involving people with dementia in the development of a dementia-friendly auditing tool of outside spaces; giving them the confidence and skills to carry out their own audits

▪ Opportunities to participate in nature-based activities; through organising and participating in workshops and community events, helping to stimulate mental health and well-being

▪ Involving young people through intergenerational activities; supporting them to increase their knowledge and communication skills

▪ Engaging carers and service providers in workshops and dementia awareness, designed to increase their knowledge and confidence in using nature-based approaches

▪ New resources and guidance materials; supporting the dementia-friendly communities model by enabling people with dementia to be more active in their communities and giving carers and service providers skills they need to support them to do so

We received £370,119 from the Big Lottery Fund over 4 years. This levered in an additional £118,734 from 17 different funders to support our overall programme of work with people with dementia. This included The Rayne Foundation, Cornwall Community Foundation, Duchy Health Trust, Arts Council England and the Haberdashers Company.

Since completing Creative Spaces in the Community in February 2018, we have been successful in securing funds to support further work. This will enable us to build on the success of the community activity groups, which have proved to be such an important form of support for people living with dementia, their families and carers. We are also building training and skills sharing for carers, in response to identifying this as a clear gap in service support.


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“we’re all here because our memories are disappearing, but we are making memories because we are doing, we are engaged.”

Find out more about the evidence of need

Everyone tends to a plot of land at Potager gardens

Sharing laughs on a Creative Spaces walk

laughter in the garden

group join hands around a tree