2020 was not the year that any of us had anticipated, and the pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives. We have adapted to new challenges and limitations. We have learned to appreciate what is truly valuable and important. Now, more than ever, a growing number of people understand the powerful benefits of engaging with nature and the outdoors for both our mental and physical wellbeing.
Covid-19 has disproportionately affected people with dementia and their families, and lockdown has had a ‘negative impact’ on their mental health, with many feeling isolated and anxious. People have lost confidence and motivation during the pandemic and are worried they are losing abilities and skills.
Getting outside, even for a short time, has a hugely positive effect on people living with dementia, including improved sleep, appetite, speech and reduced stress, anxiety and loneliness. It can even slow down the progression of the disease. It is vitally important that we continue to support people with dementia and their families to connect with nature and the outdoors. This has been a challenge while Government guidelines have been advising us to stay home.
Thanks to the support of our funders and fundraisers we have been able to adapt our services, enabling people to continue to connect socially, receive practical information and support, and to find the resilience to connect with nature and their local communities.
Although this situation has been difficult, it has fast-tracked the development of new ways of working. Through our adapted digital training and support we have reached over 3,000 people this year and as we continue to evolve, we hope to support many more people in 2021 and beyond.
Support for families and individuals
Families tell us that post diagnosis they are not given the information they need. Improving knowledge and understanding of dementia can help carers cope and improve their ability to support the person they are looking after. The arrival of Covid-19 fast-forwarded our adaptation of these events into online Dementia Skills Sessions.
In 2020 we delivered 40 Dementia Skills Sessions reaching 603 attendees.
The programme was based on our core module: Thinking Differently About Dementia. For many family carers*, this was often the first support people had received, with 85% having minimal or no contact with other support services.
- 96% had an increased understanding of how to support someone living with dementia
- 92% had a more positive understanding of dementia
- 8 out of 10 felt more confident about nature and outdoors
- Two thirds felt less isolated
- 95% had more knowledge of the information and support available
- 8 in 10 felt better able to cope with their situation in general
- Nearly half said it has made them better able to cope with Covid-19 situation
It is the best resource on dementia that I have come across.
I felt that I was not alone.
We opened the sessions to professionals working with people with dementia. This offered them an invaluable opportunity to develop their knowledge of dementia and hear the experiences of family carers.
Sophia improves her confidence & skill in working with people with dementia
Sophia Dickinson, an independent occupational therapist, works with people with dementia. She was looking to enhance her knowledge and understanding of the condition to offer more rounded support to her clients.
“There are lots of my clients who have reduced mobility, experience of falls, and also a diagnosis of dementia. So, there are physical medical issues with a diagnosis of dementia as well. As a therapist, you can look at the fall prevention and the environmental modification, but you can’t do that in isolation. You need to work with the person.”
Since the training, Sophia feels she has the confidence to be more creative in her work.
“It’s about how the person feels. This is what I could relate to the family. Just how much of a difference that makes.”
She is now encouraging her clients to go out for short periods and giving them advice on how to make that happen, Covid-19 permitting. She now identifies clients whom she thinks would benefit from getting out beyond the home environment and supports carers to identify barriers to getting out and ways to overcome them.
“This gentleman, he’s travelled, he’s done lots of hiking… and the outdoors is actually an integral part of who he is. His present goal is to go out more in the garden, weather permitting… His wife said, ‘I’d love to pack some sandwiches and a flask and go for a picnic by the river’. So I looked at her and said: ‘You can absolutely do that. Do you have a wheelchair?… It might be worth taking it for the carer to push behind just in case and for peace of mind.’ This is all part of the reablement programme that I’m creating for them.”
It’s empowering for someone that’s trying to handle a situation they do not know about. It’s almost like having another job. Suddenly finding out that your mum or your close relative has dementia and you are the person who’s kind of going to make sense of this is like taking on a full-time job. So having resources like that… It was super high quality, so much thought and care and attention… I just thought that was amazing.
Finding renewed independence
Howard cares for his wife Natalie, who has been living with dementia for three years. They are both in their seventies.
He attended one of our online Dementia Skills Sessions and describes it as having a significant impact on how he and Natalie live together:
“(In the training) we had been talking about how to share tasks at home. I’d been trying to do absolutely everything myself just to make sure it was done. Half way through (the training), the trainer said: ‘We’re going to have a tea break and it might be an idea if you shared making the tea. Natalie’s been struggling to lift the kettle, so I said: ‘You get the cups, you put the milk in.’ And it worked really, really well! So I thought from now on we’ll try to share more things. For example, now when I do the evening meal I tend to do the main bit, but if there’re vegetables to go with it, Natalie does those. I don’t think that would ever have happened without being on that webinar.
“Putting these sessions on Zoom has made them more accessible and easier to attend, in fact, I don’t think I would have been able to come to the Dementia Skills Session if it had been face to face. It makes it possible for the person you are caring for to attend as well without them feeling unnecessarily stressed.”
Time in Nature during a pandemic
As the pandemic progressed, many organisations needed help to adapt their services to the new ‘normal’.
We developed ‘Time in Nature’, a training session for individuals and organisations with an interest in supporting people with dementia to access nature and the outdoors. We delivered seven of these sessions.
We need to stop waiting to get back into community centres, buy a big coat and wellies and go outdoors instead!!!
I have a better understanding of how nature can create positive engagements for people with dementia.
Better understanding of the benefits of outdoor activity for people with dementia
Planned to make recommendations to their organisation about how they can better support carers and people living with dementia
Increased confidence to support nature connection and outdoor experiences for people with dementia
Training for organisations
Your support has helped us to upskill and build confidence in individuals and organisations.
We show people how to ‘think differently about dementia’ as a catalyst to increasing the availability and impact of nature-based, positive risk-taking activities for people living with dementia.
- Trained and supported 2,012 individuals
- Adapted our delivery into online sessions
Family carers are contacting me to tell me the benefits they are seeing in the people they support, like excitement at seeing a bird, or joy at discovering colour. I hear that people with dementia are more alert and talking a lot more.
Methodist Homes Association communities benefit from green care
We worked with Methodist Homes Association to develop a tailored programme of online training to enable their staff to support people living with dementia and their friends and families.
Methodist Homes Association (MHA) is a charity with over 75 years’ experience of delivering care and support for older people across the UK. They currently support over 18,500 people across their care homes and retirement communities, many of whom are living with dementia.
As well as delivering multiple ‘Thinking Differently About Dementia’ and ‘Time in Nature’ training sessions, we also developed an activity booklet with practical suggestions of how to connect and communicate with individuals with dementia and how to encourage engagement with nature through multi-sensory activities.
Rachel Powell, Manager of the MHA Community in Shifnal, Shropshire attended the training, and also had access to a further session where she was able to ask specific questions, in particular, how to overcome challenges presented by Covid-19 and social distancing.
“All of the training has been brilliant! I feel so empowered. I can now help family members who come to me, who need help supporting their Dad or their Mum with dementia. I have practical tools that I can now give away to others to help make their home life just that bit easier.”
She talks about the impact the training has had on the families she supports:
“I send monthly newsletters, with ideas on how to connect with nature, it might be bird spotting in your garden, or finding certain colours, or looking at patterns in snowflakes. I am getting so much more engagement now from my members”.
As well as supporting members of the community with dementia, both Rachel’s Husband and Father have dementia too.
“At home, particularly with Dad, we’ve seen some real changes that wouldn’t have happened without the training. Dad used to be a farmer, so following advice from the training, I’ve put his chair overlooking the fields, and bought him some farming magazines for us to look at together. Every day I bring him some nature from the outside. It puts a big smile on his face. He’s so much more alert and engaged now. He even initiates conversation which he wasn’t doing before.
“I feel so much more able to cope. The training has helped me see I am now doing the right things, and has empowered me to help my siblings to understand Dad and relate to him better too.”
We’re continuing to work with Rachel and MHA throughout 2021, across all their care settings.
David Moore, Dementia Lead at MHA says: “Dementia Adventure has helped MHA realise the importance of green care and nature based activities for people living with dementia, their families and our staff. Their guidance and training has enabled us to provide residents opportunities to connect with nature, something that has become so important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dementia Adventure has also supported our homes to bring the outdoors in for those residents who are physically or emotionally unable to access outdoor space”.
Following Government guidelines, we were able to make three supported dementia holidays possible over the year.
Covid-19 led to the cancellation of most of the other holidays and we didn’t just want to leave the people who could have benefitted, so we asked them what would help them stay connected with Dementia Adventure and each other during this challenging time.
It is really beneficial in lockdown to have a conversation with so many people from all over the place, quite wonderful.
- Filled 391 places on 51 Virtual Tea & Chat sessions
For many, these provided a lifeline and a really important way to share stories and give hints and tips to the other people on the call.
- 96 Check in and Chat Phone Calls
Our trained volunteers made phone calls to those who didn’t have access to the internet
He gets him to talk more in one hour than I get in six months!
Supported local outdoor experiences
People with dementia and their carers told us they had lost confidence and motivation during lockdown.
We offered supported days out to help build confidence in leaving the house, so people could enjoy the wellbeing benefits of nature on their doorstep. The programme empowered people to continue to get outdoors without our support. We had to navigate constantly changing restrictions across the UK and the programme was limited.
I think it’s really important we try to get out locally, we will use this event as a reminder it is possible.
Empowering local communities to develop outdoor activities
As a small charity, the number of supported adventures Dementia Adventure can directly provide is limited.
To increase our impact, we continued to work in local communities facilitating partner organisations to increase the local provision of ‘dementia inclusive’ outdoor activities.
For example, prior to lockdown, in partnership with Rutland County Council, Rutland Admiral Nurse Service and the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, we delivered five Time in Nature sessions at Rutland Water Nature Reserve. People with dementia and their main family supporter enjoyed multi-sensory outdoor activities including visits to the bird hides, roasting chestnuts on the firepit, exploring the bird hides, weaving willow and just enjoying being outside.
Confidence found out and about
Gill cares for her husband John who was diagnosed with early onset dementia in 2012. When we spoke with Gill during lockdown she was finding things very difficult, as she’d not been able to go out with John and it had led to his dementia deteriorating.
In August, Dementia Adventure supported them to visit a local RHS garden.
John was very quiet, and not engaging with others, but as the day went on his interaction levels increased significantly with Gill commenting that she ‘hadn’t seen him speak at this level for many months now’.
A highlight of the day was a beautiful moment of connecting with nature as we took our shoes off and walked barefoot on the soft grass, while smelling the flowers that surrounded us.
Following the trip Gill says that John’s level of interaction has increased, he is more responsive to her and when he is with the wider family he communicates with them more than he was.
The ‘out and about’ day was a positive experience for them, making significant difference to them both. Since their day out Gill and John have gone on to enjoy a picnic out with her family. Gill said that before the trip she wouldn’t have taken a picnic as it would have felt like too much pressure with John to consider, but they both enjoyed their Hyde Hall picnic so much, she now feels confident to do it herself.