From the Director of Dementia Adventure

I came across this blog post on the Whose Shoes? blog (a suggested read on personalization in health and social care, by the way). Neil Mapes is the director of Dementia Adventure, which is pretty close to one of my ideas for normalizing dementia in tourism and creating safe places for people with dementia to go with their families on vacations. It’s a good interview with him and about the importance of his company, Dementia Adventure. By the way, Neil, if you are looking for a new colleague, feel free to contact me…… 😉

In the shoes of … Neil Mapes | Director | Dementia Adventure CIC

Happy New Year everybody. #DementiaChallengers are on a roll for 2013, determined to speed up the pace of positive change for people living with dementia and their carers and improve quality of life. And what a refreshing start to the New Year we have here…!

This guest blog is from Neil Mapes, Director of the innovative and award-winning ‘Dementia Adventure’. I am delighted to be able to include this contribution to our ‘in my shoes’ series, looking at dementia from different perspectives. I am a big fan of Neil’s “can do” attitude – it takes a pretty special person to plan sailing holidays for people with dementia in our risk-averse, increasingly litigious ‘elf n’ safety’ society.

We have had over 70 guest posts so far. I have written a couple myself talking about the important role of nature  and specifically the  ‘Let nature feed your senses ‘ project. Neil’s team is making outdoor experiences a reality for more and more people.  I personally feel you do not need mountains of research to know that getting outdoors is GOOD FOR US!

Dementia Adventure is a breath of fresh air for people living with dementia in all senses (literally) – touching, smelling, feeling, tasting and not least hearing the good things that nature has to offer. Most of us take these things for granted – I’d argue that being able to continue going outdoors in later life should be seen as a ‘human right’! 

Walk and talk together Nature and the great outdoors are good for us

Sharing and enjoying activity out in nature is one of the best things we can do for our physical and mental health. People living with dementia are no different, if anything their ‘need for nature’ is greater because of the restrictions many face in accessing green spaces. We have some beautiful green spaces in the UK, some of which are carefully managed and conserved and others less so. Even in our urban spaces we are never far from a park, wood, canal or small green space. Often we find that people living with dementia are on the doorstep of a wonderful nature space but cannot, for a variety of reasons, enjoy the benefits it offers. At Dementia Adventure we have a vision of a society in which people live well with dementia, have contact and connection with nature and enjoy a sense of adventure. The simple act of walking together out in nature, or green exercise, connects us to nature and the larger world, helps orientate ourselves to the changing events of the seasons and gives us a sense of our significance in the world.

The sub-title for this wonderful WhoseShoes? blog is ‘walk a mile in my shoes.’ I wonder what changes we would see if we could enable thousands of people living with dementia to walk a mile together?

At Dementia Adventure our work takes place on three levels. Firstly we want to get more people active out in nature, secondly simply getting out of buildings and being in nature is good enough, even if only for five minutes. Finally we aim to bring nature into people’s lives who spend all of their time indoors. We increasingly find that some professionals tasked with supporting people living with dementia have simply forgotten about their own connection with nature and the importance of this connection in the daily lives of people they support. A lot of money, energy and technology is now directed at activities and developments in living well that seem to be predominately focused on indoor activity and changes. There are clear physical, emotional and social benefits from a connection with nature and the great outdoors. Unsurprisingly we intuitively know what these are because we have all experienced them, for example after a family walk in the park: we eat better, sleep better, our mood lifts and we feel like we belong.

Our intuition is increasingly informed and backed up by evidence from academia. The Green Exercise team at the University of Essex are leaders in this area and Dementia Adventure has played a key role in developing the evidence base for green exercise and dementia. The current issue of the Journal of Dementia Care highlights research work from Pitkala and colleagues in Helsinki on physical activity and dementia (JDC, vol 20, no 6, page 39). They identified a small sample of high quality randomised controlled trials and concluded that physical rehabilitation does indeed improve mobility and may well improve physical functioning. Dr. Erickson and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh not only showed that walking can improve memory but can also increase the size of the hippocampus region of the brain.

Norman and Charlie at Westonbirt

Whilst there is still the need for and demand for further gold-standard research evidence we do already know that nature is good for us**, if we can access it regularly enough and have someone to enjoy it with.

Dementia Adventure has designed park walks and woodland celebrations for up to 90 people at a time and has successfully led care home programmes such as Home Outdoors which supports carers to regularly ensure people get their ‘daily dose of nature’ as well as leading to larger adventures.

This film is about a  recent event in Scotland…

By walking and talking together out in nature our emotional bonds as human beings are strengthened and the ‘us and them’ divisions that can be caused by disease take a back step and become less of a focus. In the film Henry, a person living with dementia in Scotland, talks about the need to ‘expand our horizons’ something I wholeheartedly agree with.

Do you have an adventure in mind, what distant horizon awaits you, what small step can you take today?

Can we help?

** Evidence:

Just an hour and half of exercise a week can keep dementia away – and preserve your memory.

Regular exercise can reduce the chance of getting dementia by 40 per cent – and the risk of memory loss by 60 per cent, according to University of Lisbon research.


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