Living Well with Dementia: Outdoor Activities To Do With Your Loved One

by Romina Oliverio

With the warm weather finally here, many of us are heading outdoors to soak in the sun and warmth. For people living with dementia, spending time outside can improve quality of life and increase physical, emotional, and cognitive well being.

When planning, keep in mind your loved ones favourite activities and personalize accordingly. Not every activity suggested will appeal to all. Depending on the stage of dementia, your loved one may not enjoy or respond to an activity. Watch their reaction and adjust as you go along.

Check out the suggestions below as well as some simple modifications on what to do if you, or your loved one, is unable to go outside.

1) Take a walk in the park or visit a botanical garden
Studies have shown that nature can have a calming effect on people with dementia. As scent is our strongest sense, walking through a botanical garden or sensory garden can trigger memories and be a good source of reminiscing.
A walk is an ideal low-impact exercise to improve cardiovascular health, muscle strength, coordination, and overall physical function. It can also help the person sleep better at night.

Bring it indoors: Select plants and/or flowers of different colours, textures, and scents and place them in pots for your loved one to see, smell, feel, etc. This can be done on the balcony, a window sill, or a portable tray if mobility is an issue.

2) Gardening
Gardening can strike a chord with most people as it ties in themes of food (another powerful trigger of memory) and is a familiar activity for many. Your loved one can help tend to the yard or garden by planting seeds, picking vegetables, collecting pebbles, or raking the lawn.
Bring it indoors: Engage the person with dementia by having them water plants around the house, or help plant flowers and/or herbs.

3) Take in an outdoor concert
Music is a powerful activity that engages the whole brain and has been proven to increase communication, awareness, and engagement. Try to select concerts that fit your loved ones musical taste, specifically sounds from the persons youth.

As with any activity, engage the person in conversation if possible. Music is an effective cognitive booster and opens up memory pathways which can result in increased communication.

Bring it indoors: Sit together to watch a concert on TV or play select music on a CD player or iPod and if the mood is right, dance along!

4) Lawn games
Play a game of horseshoes, croquet, or bowling (using a toy bowling set) on a stable ground surface in the backyard. These timeless games will resonate with many people (another great opportunity for conversation!), utilize motor skills, increase coordination and flexibility and also assist with cognitive function.
Bring it indoors: Move the game set indoors and voila, you are ready to play!

5) Pets & Animals
Pets have shown to have a calming effect on responsive symptoms. Interaction with pets may result in less agitation and stress, heightened communication, and are a great source of comfort for people with dementia. Farm, animal sanctuary or even animal shelters can accommodate a visit but please notify them beforehand so they can accommodate your visit.

Bring it indoors: If you don’t have a pet yourself, encourage a friend with a well-behaved pet to visit to spend time with your loved one.

There are countless other ways to enjoy the beautiful outdoors. Make activities your own and most importantly, enjoy the moment.