Adults with Alzheimer's and Caregivers Deserve Time Out and About
Many of us enjoy the luxury of traveling wherever and whenever we can. We can up and leave the house whenever we want to; if we have an errand to run, we can spontaneously do it. When the sun is shining outside, we can get up and go outside for some Vitamin D. We go for walks, visit the store, travel, and go wherever our adventurous hearts take us. Even with technology accessible everywhere these days, it feels good to get up and go outside. When we’re stuck indoors, we long for a breath of fresh air. We really take advantage of the fact we can up and leave the home whenever we want. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for elderly people, and especially senior citizens with Alzheimer's, to get up and experience the great outdoors.
There are many benefits of being outdoors, whether it’s in the sunshine or rain. Vitamin D, regular exercise, and daylight are only a few of the benefits of leaving the home, but it can make you feel great. Just by going outside you feel fresh, energetic, and healthy. For senior citizens with health conditions like Alzheimer's, a few minutes of daylight and sunshine can help stimulate the brain. A breath of fresh air can help reduce stress levels. Everyone can benefit from this especially those who are cooped up and have very little social life outside the four walls of their home. Not only can it make patients feel productive, but it encourages socialization and communication.
A 10-15 minute walk or sitting in the front yard from the comfort of their own home can make them feel useful. It stimulates their brain, body, and all of their senses. They will notice people passing by, nature, and all sorts of different stimuli of the city or country. They will also observe other people, especially if you as a caregiver can initiate conversation.
Communication and socialization are some of the skills many people lose as they grow older. This can severely affect people with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other mental health conditions. Once they become reliant on others, it’s hard to maintain their care, as well as helping them socialize, especially if you’re a full-time carer and have responsibilities of your own.
From my personal experience caring for my mom, taking her outdoors usually gets crossed off the top of my list and scribbled down at the bottom. But in this sunny fall, I ensure she takes advantage of the beautiful fresh air. Here are a few tips to consider when visiting outdoors with a senior citizen with Alzheimer's disease.
Planning the big day out
- Planning ahead will prove to be the most successful tool here. It’s important you check the weather when taking a senior citizen outside. When planning their day out, be sure to consider where you want to take them (park, library, store, a short walk), what time (plan it around their bathroom breaks and eating schedules) and when (what day of the week is most comfortable for them).
- Be prepared for things the person with Alzheimer's will require when being outside. It’s likely they may not have visited outdoors in a while, so the daylight, noise, and people may be too much for them to bear. Wherever you visit, make sure there are bathroom facilities and a place close by to eat or pack a small snack just in case. Most importantly, if you need to make a quick escape to home, ensure the destination is not so far away from their place of comfort.
- Is the location accessible to them? The first mistake I made when taking my mom to the local park was forgetting to consider about wheelchair accessibility. When I finally got there, I observed how narrow the park’s gates were. Fortunately, I was able to wheel her into the entrance/exit with only a slight struggle, but I would strongly recommend to all caregivers to check if the location is accessible for your client.
- Have fun! This is something I often forget. It’s something you can’t plan but hope for. Whether it’s 15 minutes or a couple of hours, don’t forget to take advantage of the beautiful moment you’re sharing with them. As much as this experience is for them, it’s a great memory for you too.
There are no correct or incorrect ways of encouraging a senior citizen to be outdoors. Everyone is different, and it’s important you meet their needs first. Whether it’s taking them in the front yard for 15 minutes of fresh air or taking them to a coffee shop, they will feel energized. For senior citizens with Alzheimer's, like my mom, who are unable to be as active as the rest of us, ensure wherever you take them, they have something to observe to keep their brain stimulated.