Dementia: Dr Sara on benefits of being in nature
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New research into dementia care by Richmond Villages Willaston has shown the importance of promoting people’s independence, as carers say it not only helps people live well but also helps manage their condition. A study found that nine in 10 people who care for a loved one with dementia agreed that retaining independence is important. Of these, 42 percent found that where people with dementia had kept their independence, it had had a positive impact on their condition. One way to ensure dementia patients are keeping their independence is to encourage them to do five surprising activities every day.
A huge 920,000 people are currently living with dementia in the UK – a number expected to almost double to 1.6 million within the next 20 years.
The condition is so common that it’s important to learn how to prevent and manage the condition, even if you’ve never met anyone who has it.
New research suggests that allowing dementia patients to keep some level of independence when it comes to day to day activities and tasks could be the key to staving off symptoms.
Fran Vandelli, dementia lead for Richmond Villages Willaston, explains: “Our independence is closely linked to our sense of purpose, and can have a huge impact on our cognitive ability.
“While chores might seem boring, they actually play an important role in keeping our minds and bodies sharp –reducing our chances of developing dementia and helping those with a diagnosis live well for longer.”
You may feel uneasy about pushing a dementia patients to do their own chores, but it could really help them to manage their condition.
Richmond Villages Williaston’s dementia lead said: “With dementia, we know that it is a use it or lose it situation when it comes to skills, so it’s important that we help people to continue to do as much as they can for themselves.
“Familiar routines can help give a sense of meaning.
“There’s also an emerging concept called Material Citizenship, which shows that regular, routine use of functional objects like a mop, teapot or gardening trowel can enhance psychological well being, promoting independence and maintaining good cognitive function.”
The top five activities to prevent dementia progression
You might not want to leave all cleaning responsibilities to a person with dementia, but you can allow them to declutter their homes.
Fran said: “Removing trip hazards is important for all older people, as our balance and sight decrease with age.
“It’s particularly helpful for those with dementia who can struggle with their sense of depth or perception, putting them at higher risk of falls.
“Sadly, injuries like hip fractures can reduce people’s mobility, social ability, mood, and confidence, all of which can lead to depression, which can mimic or exacerbate the symptoms of dementia.
“Given people with dementia may struggle to find things, decluttering makes it easier to find what they need – helping them stay independent for longer.”
According to Fran, decluttering also creates opportunities to reminisce and collect together emotional and historic mementoes, like photographs which can provide a useful aid for family, friends, and carers.
She added: “Reminiscence draws on long-term memory – usually a strength for people living with dementia – which can give people a sense of competence and skill and also encourages communication.”
Making (and sharing) a pot of tea
Some evidence suggests that social isolation is linked to an increase in the speed of cognitive decline, so let your loved one with dementia make you a cuppa every now and then.
While further research is needed, it’s important that we stay social as we age as it provides a vital sense of purpose.
Fran said: “As well as maintaining our social skills, staying hydrated will defend you from UTIs and constipation.
“Both of these can cause delirium, intensifying the symptoms of dementia.
“As with photographs, sharing memories with friends and loved ones can also help keep our minds sharp, whilst reducing the risk of depression.”
Exercise is one of the best things we can do to reduce our chances of developing dementia, and a mop of the house is enough.
Fran said: “Mopping is great cardio, with an hour burning off up to 170 calories – equivalent to 15 minutes jogging on a treadmill!
“Cardiovascular exercises are particularly good for preventing vascular dementia – a common form triggered by a lack of blood circulation in the brain.
“While we can’t cure vascular dementia, leading a healthy lifestyle with enough exercise can help reduce the risk or at least slow its progression.
“Lack of exercise can also increase the risk of diabetes, which can also amplify the symptoms of dementia.
“Vigorous mopping can also protect us by building our core strength, keeping us stable and reducing our likelihood of falls.”
Staying active in the kitchen is a great way to retain skills and help prevent cognitive decline.
Fran said: “It helps us cut down on processed foods which can be high in salt, sugar and fat, leading to poor cardiovascular health and increasing our likelihood of developing diabetes, which studies have shown can increase the risk of dementia.
“For people living with dementia, cooking and baking can be a good way to get enjoyment – retaining those important feelings of purpose and independence.”
Not only is gardening good exercise but, having access to a well-maintained, safe outdoor space can help reduce feelings of anxiety or stress – which are commonly associated with dementia.
Fran said: “Gardening and being outdoors can help people manage depression, which can exhibit similar symptoms to dementia such as difficulty concentrating, disturbed sleep, confusion, and memory lapses.
“As a result, depression can make the symptoms of dementia seem worse.”
If redesigning your garden, mitigate trip hazards by using flat surfaces, such as paving or decking, and installing handrails if needed.
Fran warned: “Make sure pathways are kept clear from plants and furniture to ensure the route around the garden is clearly visible.
“Some studies have shown that warm-coloured plants – like reds, oranges and yellows – are most easily distinguished for people with visual impairments.”
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