Just for a moment, can you put yourself into the shoes of a person living with dementia in a care home?
Who are all these people in the sitting room? Why are you here anyway? Someone has left the TV on (loud) even though you can’t follow the programme. And every time you try to get up to find somewhere quiet, a person in a uniform forces you to sit down.
Can you imagine how bored, confused, frustrated or even angry you might feel?
A person-centred approach to care reminds us that, when figuring out how best to support someone with dementia, we should be led by their interests, abilities, history and personality. In my case, a daily dose of nature would be essential!
It was my mum who showed me how important nature is for the well-being of people living with dementia. Mum loved nature. She had been a keen walker and gardener most of her life. So, I could not imagine visiting her at the retirement village without taking her for a walk, even if it was just around the garden.
But one day, Mum collapsed and was rushed to hospital. When she was discharged, she was moved to the frail care unit at the retirement village. Within a couple of weeks her mood had changed completely – no longer happy and easy-going, she had become frustrated and depressed. Why?
I remember going to visit her one weekend. I found her sitting on the couch in the reception area, waiting for someone to unlock the security gate and take her for a walk outside. But nobody had the time. Instead, she spent her days locked indoors, confined to a chair in front of daytime TV.
We could not bear to witness Mum’s deteriorating mental state. After a couple of months, we moved her to a dementia home where the care culture was based on the principles of the Eden Alternative. With free access to a beautiful garden, and a cat, chickens, ducks and rabbits to delight her, Mum flourished. No longer frustrated or depressed, her last four years were some of the happiest of her life.
When developing a care plan for a person living with dementia, consider the role that nature has played in their life. What were their favourite outdoor environments, sports, hobbies and social activities?
And as the dementia progresses, and they become increasingly frail, review and adapt what they can do. In time, simply sitting in the garden or at a window admiring the view may be all that is physically possible. But research has shown that even a view of trees has therapeutic benefits!