Green Spaces & Dementia

We’re all getting older, we get older every second and being someone who is terrified at the prospect of aging his has become something that I think about a lot. This may seem ludicrous as I have only just turned twenty six but I have a strong feeling that my aversion to the idea of getting older is linked to the fact that I have spent the last ten years of my life watching two of my grandparents decline into old age in the hardest way – suffering from dementia.

Modern day medicine means that we are living for longer than we have ever done before. Although this is progress I can’t help but feel that in some cases, such as those suffering with Dementia, we are not necessarily living for longer but in fact dying for longer. We have an ageing population in the UK and the amount of people who living here with dementia is set to double in the next 30 years (Natural England, 2016).

Dementia is a progressive neurological disorder that effects the brain.

‘Dementia damages the nerve cells in the brain so messages can’t be sent from and to the brain effectively, which prevents the body from functioning normally.’ (Dementia UK).

There is currently no cure for dementia, only ways to slow down the effects of it on the brain. But what we can do is do is find ways to improve the quality of life for those suffering with it and bring them moments of joys that take them back to happier times and help them remember the faces of loved ones who’ve helped shape their lives. That’s why it is so important that we don’t write off those suffering with Dementia as a lost cause. If there are things within our power that we can do and have access to that will help alleviate the psychological effects and improve mental wellbeing then we absolutely must be doing this.

We all know that being outside and interacting with nature and wildlife has a hugely positive impact on our mental health. It helps us all to stop, take a breath and reflect on life and how we are feeling. Without sounding like too much of a hippie (thanks Dad), it’s good for our soul.

There has recently been an increasing amount of research into how being in green spaces can help those with Dementia, especially in terms of the psychological effects. A recent case study (Mapes, 2011) of Brian an elderly man living with Dementia and June who supports him both as a wife and as a carer reinforces this idea. Brian reports that his daily walk in nature ‘dampens down’ the symptoms he experiences that are related to his dementia. Delving deeper into what this means it clearly has a profound potential to help those suffering.

For those living with dementia the world can be a frightening and lonely place which often causes distressing symptoms such as aggressive outbursts and states of agitation. A literature review by Natural England observes that these non-physical symptoms of dementia, like aggression and agitation, become less apparent and again ‘dampen down’ during visits to farms where interaction with animals and access to green spaces is available and accessible. This improvement in symptoms whilst at farms is interesting as it was also found that natural green spaces that populate urban space and inner cities, such as city farms and community gardens are heavily underused by those with dementia.

The reason for this underuse of green urban spaces is unclear, there is a possibility that it could be due to the fact that there is often a gap between perceived and actual mobility and capability of those living with dementia.  The Natural England study also found that although only 20% of people living with Dementia feel as though their illness would prevent them from venturing outside, staggeringly 83% of their carers disagreed with this.

The opportunities for improved mental welling for those with dementia through interaction with an inner city farm, such as Vauxhall City Farm, are endless; mood enhancement, having a stronger sense of self, ‘Dampening down’ of psychological symptoms such as aggression and agitation. We hope that here at Vauxhall City Farm we can provide those members of the community who are affected by the psychological side effects of this disease a safe green space that they can benefit from and enjoy.

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