Getting back to nature in the forest can be a helpful support for people living with...

With an estimated 1 million people diagnosed with dementia by 2025, there is a real need to provide more support to those living with the disease. Getting reacquainted with the great outdoors through forest therapy is one way of improving wellbeing and lowering stress levels in sufferers.

Forest therapy – also known as shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing – became popular in Japan in the 1980s. First offered to stressed, middle-aged businessmen, it has since become a cornerstone of preventative health throughout much of Asia. Now established in many countries worldwide, this rejuvenating experience has been found to have a profound and restorative effect on the wellbeing of many groups of people, and especially adults who are living with dementia.

Dementia can be a lonely and stressful condition. In the early stages of the disease, the awareness that areas of competency are being lost is very hard. Coming to terms with short-term memory loss, in particular, can have a devastating effect on an individual’s confidence and identity.

Pete Carthy, who is a specialist in delivering Eco-therapy and bush craft, found that time spent in nature focusing the mind on the present – by concentrating on the sensory experience of the smells, sights, sounds and touch of the forest – can provide positive support for adults with dementia.

“When people hear about courses like this, they think we’ll be learning about trees,” says Pete. “But it’s more about learning about yourself and others through learning about trees and nature. It reconnects people through nature.

“Using the sensory experiences of nature often can rekindle the procedural memories (the ‘doing’ memories), of clients living with dementia. This can be done by creating several linked sensory experiences, contained through a walk, activities, or chatting around a camp fire.”

Pete, who delivers courses for other groups, including those living with depression and other more complex mental health issues, found that simply spending time in a forest environment with others, with no expectation or deadlines, can have a healing and restorative effect.

[x_blockquote cite=”Pete Carthy” type=”left”]Just sitting together at the end of the day around the fire was one of the highlight for many people. The chance to share time together, without judgement, is an amazing experience for those who have been labelled with a disease or disorder. It’s a chance just to be a human being, and connect with others in a very direct way.[/x_blockquote]

About the interviewee

Pete Carthy is a specialist in eco-therapy. He is interested in reconnecting people through nature. Pete is Founding Director of Instinctively Wild (Twitter: @InstictivelyWi) – a social enterprise (CIC) in the Scottish Borders – Pete and fellow Directors use a Forest Schools approach with bushcraft, creative storytelling, environmental art, etc. with people aged 4 to 84.

How Livability is supporting people living with dementia and mental illness:

Livability at Holton Lee, a wellbeing and holistic health centre in Dorset, runs horticultural therapy courses. For more details about the centre and the courses they offer, please see here.

Livability has launched the Dementia-Friendly Church Guide, a resource for church leaders to create more inclusive communities for those living with dementia. Find out more about this resource below: