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New study is part of plan to extend healthy life for people with dementia by five years by 2035


Age positive image of two people enjoying coffee

Increased contact with nature could improve the quality of life for people living with dementia, say academics

A new study is set to explore ways of increasing access to the natural environment for those living with dementia and similar conditions in a bid to improve - and even extend - their lives.

The ENLIVEN study was launched this month, with a brief to work with businesses, social enterprises and third sector organisations to develop and test innovative ways of adapting services and improving accessibility, in order to address and overcome the barriers that stop people living with cognitive impairment from accessing nature-based outdoor activities.

Dr Catherine Quinn, a lecturer in the Centre for Applied Dementia Studies at the University of Bradford, who is a Co-Investigator on the study said there was already evidence that an increased contact with nature had a beneficial effect.

Pandemic impacts

Dr Quinn is a co-investigator on the IDEAL programme led by Professor Linda Clare at the University of Exeter.

IDEAL is the largest study of living well with dementia in the UK and seeks to examine the factors which contribute to living well with dementia and how they change over time. A separate study funded by UKRI (known as INCLUDE) was launched in June to look at the effect of Covid-19 on people with dementia and carers taking part in the IDEAL programme.

Dr Quinn said findings from the IDEAL study showed there were a number of negative impacts as a result of restriction imposed during the pandemic.

Increase contact

She said: “The pandemic has had an effect on all of us but one thing which has been very clear is the enjoyment people have derived from being outdoors or just spending time in the garden. But what does that mean for people living with dementia, many of whom under social distancing restrictions have had to shield and remain indoors?

“One of driving factors behind the ENLIVEN study is to look at ways of working with businesses to increase contact with nature-based activities for people living with dementia and other cognitive impairments.”

It is hoped the 36-month-long study will help older people living with cognitive impairment – including dementia – to be more active and independent and experience a better quality of life through increasing their contact with the natural environment.

Extending healthy life

ENLIVEN is led by researchers from the University of Exeter, and is one of seven research projects funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) that form the Healthy Ageing Social, Behavioural and Design Research Programme (SBDRP), which is overseen by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The programme is one component of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Healthy Ageing Challenge, which has the overall goal of extending healthy, active life expectancy by five years by 2035.

Research has established that, for people with dementia, the benefits of outdoor activity include maintaining independence and meaningful occupation, promoting social inclusion, stimulating memory and the senses, and enhancing identity and self-esteem.

For those at risk of developing dementia, such as people with mild cognitive impairment or post-stroke cognitive impairment, engagement with nature may help to prevent, reduce or slow cognitive decline.

Longer lives

Professor Linda Clare, Professor of Clinical Psychology of Ageing and Dementia and Director of the Centre for Research in Ageing and Cognitive Health (REACH), is the project’s Chief Investigator.

Professor Clare said: “We believe that outdoor activity in nature, whether it’s a walk around a local park or a day trip to a place that attracts visitors, really can enable people with cognitive impairment to live better, richer and ultimately longer lives.

“In ENLIVEN, we aim to work with organisations to put in place innovative ways of facilitating this greater engagement with the natural world by addressing some of the barriers and obstacles people with dementia are facing.”

The study will seek to identify barriers which prevent those with dementia and other cognitive impairments from gaining access to nature. These could include things like physical accessibility, transport costs and safety concerns, in addition to cultural, social and psychological obstacles, which are often exacerbated among those from minority ethnic and disadvantaged groups.

Dr Quinn said they were keen to hear from and engage with businesses, social enterprises, and this sector organisations in Yorkshire.

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