A systematic review of older people's sensory engagement with nature

Sensory engagement lies at the heart of much of our work and we are keen to deepen the evidence base showing the health benefits that come from this approach. So it has been a welcome opportunity to collaborate with specialist researchers from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) and the Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (Pen-CLAHRC) on a systematic review.

The aim of the review was to assess the health and wellbeing benefits of outdoor sensory experiences, and more specifically to help us understand how older people, including those living with dementiadescribe their sensory engagement with nature and the natural environment.

The review addressed two key questions: Are there different experiences for different groups of people, such as people living with dementia? And are there ways in which these experiences can be enhanced?

The findings describe a series of interlocking themes related to older people’s sensory engagement with nature and how they seek to enhance their experiences.

The review was supported by the In Residence programme's Follow On scheme, and led by the Centre's specialists in systematic reviews and qualitative research, Dr Ruth Garside and Dr Noreen Orr, working with Sensory Trust's research and evaluation lead Dr Alex Wagstaffe. It placed a particular focus on older people, including people living with dementia and disabilities.

Through working together we hope to make a contribution to research in health and social science and to establish a deeper evidence base to inform professional practice. We have benefitted from access to research databases and learning about the methodologies of systematic reviews, while the researchers from the European Centre have enhanced their understanding of sensory engagement.

The review has been jointly published and is available to read now at Bio Med Central - How do older people describe their sensory experiences of the natural world? A systematic review of the qualitative evidence

We look forward to further collaboration with the ECEHH, including sharing our research with a wider audience and informing future training programmes for the health and care sectors.

Further reading on nature, the outdoors and dementia from ECEHH

Outdoor Space and Dementia: A systematic review - a study examining the impact of gardens and outdoor spaces on the mental and physical well-being of people with dementia who are resident in care homes.

How can care home gardens improve dementia patient care.


Members of the dementia friendly walking group

my nature is a collaborative project supporting healthcare professionals to improve older people’s sensory experiences of the natural world.


Our research projects - find out about other research projects and academic collaborations

Evaluation work - our creative and inclusive approach to evaluation

Sensory engagement - projects, ideas and examples of how to connect with nature through the senses

Age friendly landscapes - designing outdoor spaces for older people

European Centre for Environment and Human Health - find out more about the Centre's research work

Members of the dementia friendly walking group