By Helen Young
Given what they bring to people's lives, art and the outdoors have always been underrated aspects of our society. Both are immune from our hectic everyday existences in the frantic modern world. Both bring people together, bound not by profit or work opportunities, but by the shared love of something bigger than themselves. Both offer a slice of beauty, a touch and a nod to something higher that is all too often not felt as part of our daily routine.
There is, undoubtedly, something magical about both of them. In the web of life, art and the outdoors should be celebrated with much more louder voices than those that champion global markets, the latest flashy products, and irrelevant celebrity news.
This magic should be heralded not least because it can help touch those who need the most help. You might not have thought about it before, but art and the outdoors can offer a wonderful coping mechanism for those suffering from dementia, as well as those close to the patient who also suffer from the illness by extension. How does this happen? We'll take a look in this article.
The world can seem an increasingly lonely, confusing place for dementia sufferers. The death of brain cells means treasured memories are harder to access, while new ones can sometimes not be formed at all. Conversations can be difficult to maintain. Anxiety and depression are common side-effects of this loneliness and confusion, as are fear and aggression. In all forms, it is a terrible disease that can make a person feel like they're losing themselves.
How does art help?
Art has been used as therapy for dementia patients. Why it should be a success is still something of a mystery, but it seems that the combination of creativity, concentration, and sense of accomplishment all contribute to help the patient handle their condition just that little bit better.
Dementia patients often feel that they're slowly losing control of their lives. Basic tasks can be an ordeal, and many daily activities are taken care of by medical staff or relatives. This means they often lose any sense of function, of purpose. They have nothing to do and nothing to show at the end of the day. Art changes this. When they're sketching, painting, or creating, they're in control. They alone get to decide in which direction they take their creation.
It also immortalizes them. As their memories become harder to recall, they're able to hold on to something that have created and be rewarded by that satisfaction. When everything in their life seems dark, it gives them a chance to create beauty and gift it to the world. Positive feedback to this creation can give a tremendous psychological boost to the patient.
And it'll be even better if they practice their art in the outdoors, because...
Nature is life's greatest gifts. Everybody can benefit from spending some time in the outdoors. It relieves tension, helps us reflect on our lives, and exposes us to the life-affirming sun rays we need to feel happy.
How the Outdoors Benefits Dementia Patients
Getting outdoors is very important to dementia patients. The impact it can have on them is quite remarkable: reduced depression, greater social interaction, better health, better engagement with the senses. These are just a selection, too. In almost every respect, getting into the outdoors and engaging with nature will have a positive impact on a dementia patient. The one barrier is that it is difficult for sufferers to go it alone - they need help, or better yet, a framework (like Better Farm!) in which they can enjoy all that is great about the outdoors in a safe space.
What patients do in the outdoors is mostly unimportant, but some activities do work particularly well. Gardening can focus the mind and bring a sense of satisfaction once the plants begin to grow. Taking care of animals such as rabbits or chickens also provides the person with a sense of responsibility and an important daily routine.
If nothing else, simply sitting in the outdoors will give the patient a boost.
Dementia is a terrible illness, but that doesn't mean all aspects of it have to be negative. By engaging in art programs and getting into the outdoors, it's possible to improve the quality of life of the people who need it most.