Long daylight hours and a relaxed dress code make summer the perfect time of year to get out of the house and enjoy the great outdoors. And while there are many activities for the young, there are also plenty for the young at heart. Here’s a list of outdoor activities that are suited for Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. Try to incorporate these activities into a regular schedule, when possible. Regularity is generally important for a person with Alzheimer’s. It reduces anxiety and stress when the regular activity is enjoyable.
1. Take an early morning or late afternoon stroll. Studies have shown that simple exercise on a routine basis, such as taking a walk every day, may help improve mood and decrease anxiety in Alzheimer’s patients. By getting out in the early morning or late afternoon, you can still enjoy a reasonably comfortable walk while avoiding mid-day heat.
2. Shop at a farmers’ market. Summer is the prime time to shop farmers’ markets. There are numerous crops in season June through September, which means there will be a variety of fruits and vegetables—straight from the farmers who grow them. Many of these markets have outdoor stands during the summer months, so you can spend time outdoors while hunting for nutritious, memory-preserving foods such as carrots and leafy greens. Plus, seeing colorful foods can lead to better eating habits in people with Alzheimer’s.
3. Spend time on a porch swing. The image of a swing softly swaying on a front porch is a slice of Americana. Whether it brings back memories of a scene from The Andy Griffith Show or just a lazy summer evening from your own childhood, it’s sure to ignite pleasant memories. Plus, the rhythmic motion of the swing can be soothing to a loved one with Alzheimer’s.
4. Visit a local park. Have you checked out your city’s parks and greenways lately? Most parks no longer consist of just a playground and a duck pond. These days, city parks are professionally landscaped havens filled with beautiful vegetation, meandering walking trails, and even sculptured art. A park can be a peaceful place for walking or just meditating on the beauty of your surroundings, and this environment can provide stimulation in a lowstress setting. But make sure the person with Alzheimer’s is comfortable and not intimidated, even by what seems to you to be a friendly environment. This is why keeping to a regular schedule is important in caring for a person with Alzheimer’s—regularity can lead to familiarity. Contact your local parks and recreation department to locate parks near you.
5. Bird watch in your back yard. Bird watching is a popular hobby in the United States. It’s something that can be enjoyed by the entire family, and it only requires a pair of binoculars or just your own two eyes. It will allow you to discover the variety of birds in your own region—even in your own neighborhood—while letting you view the habits of our feathered friends. You might even want to add bird feeders and birdbaths to your property to attract a greater assortment of birds.
6. Enjoy a concert in the park. If you want to enjoy outdoor music, summer is the time to do it. Parks, as well as outdoor arenas and shopping centers, are likely to have some kind of live music at least once during the season. If you plan on attending one of these events with your loved one, you might want to attend a concert that features music you know the person with Alzheimer’s likes. Outdoor concerts may feature more easy-going music, such as string quartets or jazz ensembles. Some may highlight big band or beach music—genres that could bring back memories for you and your loved one. Be cautious of crowds, however. A person with Alzheimer’s may feel anxious and helpless around strangers or groups of people.
7. Explore your city’s downtown district. Instead of getting in your car to drive from one shopping center to another, take your errand list downtown and walk from store to store. Main Street USA is no longer a neglected, irrelevant part of American communities. The latest trend in towns big and small is the revitalization of downtown districts. Business owners are refurbishing historic buildings that were once in danger of being condemned and making them part of unique shopping, art, and historic districts. Exploring the businesses in your city’s downtown district can be quite fun. Where else can you find a 100-year-old jewelry store in-between a frozen yogurt shop and a historic marker? Certainly not at a strip mall.
8. Stargaze on a clear night. Summer is one of the most temperate times to sit outside on a late evening. Stargazing can include the use of a telescope, or just the naked eye. Check your library or the Internet for guides on the stars, planets, and constellations visible in your hemisphere at any given time. By following the local news, you can also find out when a meteor shower is likely. Just remember: A person with Alzheimer’s generally doesn’t function as well in the evening. This is called “sundowning.” If this is applies to your loved one, stargazing may not be the right activity for him or her.
9. Collect seashells. Whether you live by the sea or only make an annual visit, shell collecting can be a quiet, simple activity to share with your loved one. The sound of the waves and the texture of the sand can be soothing, while looking for shells can provide a sense of adventure to your outing. You may even find that the person with Alzheimer’s is captivated by handling the shells. Later, you can incorporate the shells into decorative or craft projects so that your family will be reminded of the beach all year long.
10. Have a picnic. A picnic is an easy way to spend time outside, and you can have one anywhere—on your patio, at a park, on the beach. And as far as the food goes, you can pack sandwiches, pick up some takeout to bring with you, or grill out in your backyard. Regardless of what you eat or where you eat it, the joy of a picnic is in setting aside a special to time to dine with friends or family in a relaxing environment.
Spending time outdoors is an important way to help your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease remain connected to the world around them. Several recent studies have shown that recreational activities, similar to those listed above, improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in terms of reducing disruptive and agitated behavior. Even more strikingly, Alzheimer’s patients have shown improvement in memory and in activities of daily living after recreational stimulation. In fact, compared to cognitive therapy alone (e.g., memory exercises), recreational therapy appears to lead to a greater improvement in functional status. So, try out some (or all) of these activities this summer to interact with nature—and others—in safe, fun, and beneficial ways.
By Jennifer Sellers