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The Sensory Trust; working with nature to encourage independence and wellbeing

I had an interview with Wendy Brewin from the Sensory Trust, who described the work they do with people with dementia and their caregivers.

Photo of Skye Algera
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I was able to have a phone interview with Wendy Brewin who focuses on dementia and the environement. She manages the Creative Spaces in the Community project in Cornwall (http://www.sensorytrust.org.uk/projects/creative-spaces/index.html).

She had some insights into the benefits of nature, exercise and social experience for both people with dementia related diseases as well as their caregivers.

The Sensory Trust have set up various walking groups around Cornwall for people effected by dementia. A walking group in St Austell has been in operation since 2014, and the community has visibly benefitted. 

The walking groups have benefitted individuals socially, it allows the caregiver and their loved one with dementia to separate and gain individual peer support, which gives the caregiver a much needed break from the world of dementia and allows them to have a normal conversation. The social side also helps people build up their confidence and establish a peer group full of people who understand what they're going through, can offer help, guidance, support and a sympathetic ear. The group is an instigator for forming social connections within a community with a still rather stigmatised disease.

The groups also allows individuals with dementia to retain their independence for longer, both through the social interaction as well as exercise, which studies have shown can slow the progress of dementia related diseases.

Nature also plays a positive role, Wendy suggested looking at the Attention Restoration Theory which cites nature as a trigger allowing us to switch to involuntary attention, beneficial for carers in particular:

'Attention Restoration Theory (ART) (Kaplan, 1989, 1995) suggests that mental fatigue and concentration can be improved by time spent in, or looking at nature. The capacity of the brain to focus on a specific stimulus or task is limited and results in ‘directed attention fatigue’. ART proposes that exposure to natural environments encourages more effortless brain function, thereby allowing it to recover and replenish its directed attention capacity.'

(http://www.ecehh.org/research-projects/attention-restoration-theory-a-systematic-review/)

To conclude, from this interview I found that various factors, experiences and situations can benefit both the person with dementia and their caregiver, and if something could be designed to benefit both parties at the same time, perhaps even removing the border between the two individuals, it would be massively beneficial.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

I feel that the insight into the benefits of nature and social interaction can help to centre the outcome of this project towards something constructive for individuals with dementia related diseases, their caregivers, as well as nature and the environment.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am currently in my third year of studying Sustainable Product Design at Falmouth university.

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Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Skye,

Thank you for posting this in the challenge. Did Wendy mention solutions that could scale?

I hope I get to see you in the ideas phase.