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Froglife is Leaping forward for Dementia

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Nature provides so many ways to awaken the senses (Froglife)
Nature provides so many ways to awaken the senses (Froglife)

Aside from working to conserve our native reptile and amphibian species, at Froglife we strive to connect disadvantaged groups with nature – those facing barriers to getting outdoors and engaged with wildlife. Since 2018, one particular focus has been providing opportunities for people living with dementia. We run projects in Glasgow, in Somerset, we are setting up another in London in 2020, as well as developing others across the UK. We work in care homes, with community groups, and with individuals, bringing nature’s power for wellbeing to people living with dementia and those that care for them.

This work began in response to growing awareness of the positive impacts that nature, wildlife, and outdoor experiences can have. Indeed these apply to everyone, but research is increasingly pointing to specifically applicable benefits upon mental and physical health for people with dementia. These findings have been summarized in recent Natural England reports ‘Greening Dementia’ (2013) and ‘Is It Nice Outside?’ (2016). Among these benefits are generally improved feelings of wellbeing, increased verbal expression, memory, attention, awareness and self-esteem.

Collecting data for Butterfly Conservations Big Butterfly Count (Froglife)
Collecting data for Butterfly Conservations Big Butterfly Count (Froglife)

The inbuilt connection with nature we have as humans, known as Biophilia, is likely to explain part of this. Natural spaces are stimulating, relaxing and therapeutic for body and mind, to the extent that just sitting still and observing has proven positive health benefits.

We see these during every session, in smiles, brightened eyes and conversations – nature provides a rich tapestry for stimulating the senses and creating stories.

The first time we used the Kelly kettle I said “can you help me make a fire to get the tea on” “You’re joking?!” said one of the participants. Now every week she loves gathering twigs and feeding them into the fire (Froglife)
The first time we used the Kelly kettle I said “can you help me make a fire to get the tea on” “You’re joking?!” said one of the participants. Now every week she loves gathering twigs and feeding them into the fire (Froglife)

Over the last two decades, the concept of ‘person centred care’ has revolutionized the way dementia is treated, moving from a sadly often stigmatised and ignored diagnosis, to one in which retaining skills, self-identity, and dignity are prioritized through encouragement, empowerment and positive emotional interactions. Again nature provides us with a full toolbox for this approach. We integrate hands on nature conservation tasks in our sessions, enabling people to feel properly connected with their local wildlife and green spaces. Popular tasks include woodworking projects such as building bird boxes – challenging ‘risk averse’ notions that people living with dementia can’t use sharp tools or get dirty hands. It’s amazing what can be done by taking it slowly, having a few options in the bag, and celebrating even the smallest achievement.

Running projects which are accessible and appreciated by people living with dementia does require a different approach to the more typical conservation management activities and education sessions. Logistics, activities, instruction, gathering meaningful feedback for reporting to funders, all require special attention. Luckily there is an ever growing body of research and literature available to aid project design and delivery, much of it developed by or in collaboration with people living with dementia. It’s also highly rewarding, and a lot of fun!

For more information please contact Zak Mathergratton, Green Pathways for Life Project Officer, Froglife zak.mathergratton@froglife.org Mobile: 07949 572849

www.froglife.org 

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