30 Days Wild: The benefits of nature upon the elderly and their carers

Louise Baker works for Your Health Limited, a private group that runs residential care homes across the country. Could engagement with wildlife help stimulate the residents’ lives and improve their wellbeing?

Louise was determined that the homes and their residents would embrace this year’s 30 Days Wild. Managers and staff set about planning the wildest month that they could, and introduced opportunities for residents to engage with nature in interesting ways. These included nature journals, wild artwork and picnics in the sun, as well as plant potting, butterfly gardening and feeding the birds.

Residents enjoyed water fights, eating strawberries, making daisy chains, creating fairy gardens, dipping their toes into cool paddling pool water and bee counting, and met creatures and creepy crawlies they’d perhaps not have encountered otherwise.

We have noticed that many of our residents with dementia, or varying physical and mental disabilities have become less agitated as they have spent more time outdoors focussing on wildlife.

One home with particularly expansive and wild grounds took photographs of fish in the lake, and pigeon eggs discovered cracked beneath an old nest. Flower arranging, visiting the river and spotting wildlife in different habits replaced afternoons that may have been spent in a fairly sedentary fashion. Of course, interacting with nature needn’t involve speed, expense or much effort, but it will always be an adventure for those lucky enough to experience it.

One sunny lady, upon making a daisy chain, commented that the activity made her, “feel like I did when I was young, sat in the grass making them all those years ago.” At 77-years of age Gail had not forgotten the simple pleasures of a wild childhood; they were waiting to be unlocked by another similarly enjoyable encounter.

Another resident, a local lad, was intrigued by the fish he observed swimming in the lake: “Wow, they look like trout. They’re just like when I fished here as a boy. That’s amazing to see!” Circumstance had caused Baz to return to his childhood haunt, and participating in 30 Days Wild had helped him to remember the activity he had enjoyed the most as a child. These happenstances had provided wild therapy, and stimulated mental wellbeing and recollection. Nature gets us all talking, it would seem!

One home manager, Zoe Searston of Langwith Lodge Residential Home in Nottinghamshire, observed that far fewer residents had suffered falls during June; the month witnessed four instances of falls, compared to between five and thirteen during the five previous months. She attributes this decrease to the residents’ experiences of 30 Days Wild:

“We have noticed that many of our residents with dementia, or varying physical and mental disabilities have become less agitated as they have spent more time outdoors focusing on wildlife. This agitation can cause erratic and anxious behaviour, which increases an elderly person’s risk of falling. However, certain activities during 30 Days Wild have calmed and engaged our residents. Mental wellbeing affects our residents’ physical health, and we have witnessed the positive effects of nature on both.”

Old or young, the wilderness has no age limits – and it asks for nothing in return. We all share an inherited need for adventure, which can be fulfilled when we take a little longer to appreciate the world, and wild around us. The elderly often need help to access these experiences, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they’re available.

Certain activities during 30 Days Wild have calmed and engaged our residents. Mental wellbeing affects our residents’ physical health, and we have witnessed the positive effects of nature on both

For some the great outdoors and nature are happenings beyond their windows; time rolls on, seasons change, but landscapes remain the same – and there’s a misguided sense of assurance that they’ll always be there. For others, such as our group’s residents, they provide ample opportunity for release, reminiscence and therapy.