Life with dementia can still be an adventure

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Life with dementia can still be an adventure

By Andrea Childs

May 18, 2020

Life can shrink when you are living with dementia. It’s not just the diagnosis itself that limits you; it’s the loss of confidence it can bring and the challenges of getting out and about in a world that often doesn’t understand the condition. Dementia Adventure is an organisation that supports people with dementia to get outdoors, connect with nature and retain a sense of adventure in their lives. Nourish spoke to Catherine Reed to find out more

Your job title is Head of Adventures, which sounds brilliant! Tell us more…
People living with dementia often feel that trips and travel are no longer available to them. We organise our holidays to beautiful places including Norfolk, the Isle of Wight, the Peak District, Devon and Cornwall. Each trip lasts for five days and activities include walking, archery, zip wire, boat trips and lots more. We take four pairs of people at a time – the person who is living with dementia and their partner, family member, friend or carer. It’s important they have someone with them they know, so they feel secure in an unfamiliar environment. We also have three volunteers and a paid adventure leader on each trip, so 12 people in total.

Why is it so important to be outdoors and connecting with nature and communities?
Studies show the physical and mental health benefits of being outside and taking part in outdoor activity for everyone, and there’s strong evidence that engaging with nature in this way increases the sense of wellbeing and quality of life for people living with dementia. Plus, we have a lot of fun – we go to the pub, we cook together… We’ve had volunteers join us after seeing a Dementia Adventure group chatting and laughing in a café and wanting to be a part of that experience.

Why do supported holidays make a difference?
For anyone caring for a person with dementia, it can be a difficult choice between choosing respite care and going away without your loved one, or travelling together and worrying what will happen if a situation proves challenging. One woman told me, ‘I just want to go on holiday with the man I love’, and that’s what we can offer. Our volunteers are there to support everyone. They can chat with the individual with dementia, giving space and time to the family carer.

Who are your volunteers?
Many of our volunteers have personal experience of caring for a family member living with dementia, or they have worked in the dementia field. We had one couple who began holidaying with us soon after the man’s diagnosis, returning around 14 times. Now their son volunteers with us. All our volunteers are people who like people and enjoy taking the time to listen – our holidaymakers have great stories to tell and we all learn so much from them.

Holidays and days out can’t happen at the moment so what are you doing instead?
Outside of holidays, our holidaymakers usually pack their weeks with activities, such as going to a dementia café, choir or craft group to connect with others. We know they miss that so we’ve set up online coffee morning and afternoon teas on Zoom so we can have virtual meet-ups twice a week that last for between 60-90 minutes. It was great to have Jane join us for one of our recent events – especially as her parents are regular holidaymakers with us.

Some people don’t feel happy using technology and tend to be more isolated, so we’ve also trained our volunteers to have one-to-one chats. That might be with a family carer to give them a sense of connection, or we can talk with the person living with dementia. After every holiday we give everyone a photo album from the trip. If the carer takes the book out before our call, we can talk about the holiday and they can use the photos to help prompt memories.

What other support do you offer for people caring for someone with a dementia diagnosis?
Our free online Dementia Skills Sessions give lots of practical tips and expert advice to help anyone in a supportive role. We also have sessions for professionals supporting people with dementia, such as care home staff, as well as training to help organisations create inclusive and accessible services, or set up a nature-based programme specifically for people living with dementia in their local community.

To find out more about Dementia Adventure, go to the website.

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