Can You Treat Dementia With a ‘Breath of Fresh Air’

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An innovative project will look at the impact of walking in the outdoors and writing has on dementia after being seen to improve memory and mood.

David Manderson, a researcher with the University of the West of Scotland, has launched the ‘Breath of Fresh Air’ project to look at the impact of the outdoors on people with dementia after noticing a significant difference in his mother’s dementia when they ventured into the great outdoors.

When asked to write about her past after walking, David noticed a significant difference in her ability to recall details and stories. An experiment in the classroom found that students who had gone for a walk outside were also better able to write creatively than those who had simply walked on a treadmill or sat in class.

Enlisting the help of the UWS team, based within our School of Nursing, who worked with Alzheimer Scotland on the Hamilton football reminiscence project, David is hoping to demonstrate that the benefit of getting some fresh air can be far more profound than improving your physical fitness.

He said: “Many authors have used walking as a literary device before, but I’m hoping to find out just how useful walking is to helping access stories.

“Walking in the fresh air seems to help hugely with reminiscence and the ability for the brain to provide access to stories. It also seems to help elevate mood and make people feel better as a whole.

“We’ve looked at some informal experiments that put people on treadmills and looked at what they write afterwards, comparing it with those who walked in open air, we’ve also looked at the difference between rural and urban walking.

“There seems to be a strong correlation between walking in the outdoors and benefit for mental health; with even those on the treadmill not able to write as freely as those outdoors.”

While anecdotal, David says the difference in his mother’s condition continues to be a source of hope.

“It’s not just in her ability to write, her alertness and ability to communicate in general improves significantly, as does her memory,” he said. “It is remarkable to think something as simple as a breath of fresh air in the outdoors can make such a difference.”

In carrying out further research, David is hoping to develop a mobile phone app track the difference between cognitive response before, during and after a walk in the outdoors, and compare those results with those who step on a treadmill.

The study is due to conclude in 2017.

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