How Does Being Outside Benefit People Living with Dementia?

The Benefits of Being Outdoors/ Nick Daly Photolibrary/ Getty Images.

Many people living with dementia end up spending little to no time outdoors. One group in England wants to change this.

They've compiled a report entitled, "Greening Dementia" to outline the benefits of being outdoors, especially for those who are living with Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.

Benefits of the Outdoors for People Living with Dementia

• Improved emotional state: reduced stress, agitation, anger, apathy and depression
• Improved physical health: skin health, fitness, sleeping patterns, eating patterns
• Improved verbal expression
• Improved memory and attention
• Improved awareness: multi-sensory engagement and joy
• Improved sense of well-being, independence, self-esteem and control
• Improved social interaction and a sense of belonging

(Benefits are quoted from Greening Dementia, 2013)

Barriers to Spending Time in Nature

With that huge list of benefits, why isn't more time spent outdoors? Some of the barriers are a result of the fear of liability, others are related to safety concerns and others are self-imposed by people with dementia. Here are some common barriers for people with dementia to spend time outdoors:

  • Fear of getting lost or wandering away
  • Safety concerns such as uneven terrain
  • Lack of access to an outdoors space
  • Tendency to isolate themselves

7 Tips on Facilitating Time Outdoors

While more research is in process on being conducted regarding the benefits of fresh air, it's clear that being "green" is beneficial for people with dementia. How can we help people with dementia to experience the outdoors more frequently?

1. Raise awareness

When you have the chance, talk about the benefits of being outdoors- for everyone, but especially for people who are living with dementia.

Share a few of the benefits that have been demonstrated through research.

2. Advocate for time outdoors

If your loved one with dementia lives in a care facility, ask the staff if they can take her outside. Facility staff should be sure to monitor the whereabouts of each person with dementia- many facilities have an enclosed courtyard to allow for time outdoors without the concern of someone accidentally getting lost.

3. Make it a daily routine

If your loved one is in her own home or living with you in yours, build outdoor time into the daily routine. Of course, this is weather-dependent, but even a brief walk with a winter coat on in colder temperatures can be beneficial.

4. Consider adding raised gardens

Raised gardens make it easier for someone who is older to enjoy gardening while reducing the chances of falling.

5. Play games outside

In the earlier stages of dementia, consider playing board games, doing a crossword puzzle or reading a book outside.

6. Exercise outside

Go for a regular walk with your loved one. Physical exercise has been shown to slow down the cognitive declines related to dementia.

7. Put safety measures in place

Ensure the safety of your loved one or patient. Be aware that approximately 60% of people with dementia will wander at some point in their disease, whether intentionally because they are mistakenly concerned that they are late for work or unintentionally because they're lost. Sign your loved one up for the Alzheimer's Association Safe Return program.

If your loved one lives in your home with you, consider installing safety alarms on the doors. While going outside is beneficial, it's possible that regularly going outdoors could trigger someone to seek to go out when it's not safe to do so.


Alzheimer's Association. Wandering and Getting Lost. Accessed March 28, 2014.

Greening Dementia. Natural England Commissioned Report NECR137. A literature review of the benefits and barriers facing individuals living with dementia in accessing the natural environment and local greenspace. November 21, 2013.

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