Older people and the natural world

How people experience the natural world changes as they age. Sensory perceptions, such as sight and smell, can alter over time. So how important is getting outside into nature for older people – including those living with dementia – and how can we deliver better experiences?

According to a review of available research amongst the over 60s, being outdoors and experiencing nature, plants and wildlife offers real physical, social and mental benefits for older people. How much they can benefit, however, depends on how they are limited by their own capabilities. And the research suggests that these limits are hindering people from spending as much time outside as they would like.

Studies suggest that being outdoors, in gardens or landscapes, is of great therapeutic value. The UK government itself has asserted that everyone should have fair access to a good quality natural environment. That access can play a key role in a further government priority of enabling people to live well with dementia.

The research suggests that beautiful views from a window enable many to connect with the natural world regardless of mobility. For those able to travel, access to a car opened up opportunities to get outside in different landscapes. Even in cities, being able to track the changing face of nature through community areas or even watching the detail of trees through the seasons brings pleasure.

In sensory terms, feeling the wind, hearing birdsong and taking in countryside or seaside fresh air and associated scents helped people to connect with nature, enjoy a sense of peace and tranquility, and raise the feeling of well-being.

For those who live in residential settings the ability to get outside in some way is important. As well as contributing to a sense of well-being, it helps people to feel less trapped in their surroundings.

And for older people still living at home, the garden or the allotment can still hold great attraction, although changing needs may mean a re-think of how the space works safely and can be maintained easily.

Those who can access transport or join community groups can benefit from tours across landscapes or visits to gardens and historic homes. Older people are core to memberships of organisations such as the National Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society, and while they continue to work to attract young families, it would be nice to think that they recognise the importance of their offerings to their more mature members.



Where cafes can do better for older customers and those with dementia

I’ve just written an article about how far retailers have come in understanding dementia – but how far they still have to go in taking action to make life easier.

I believe that every organisation that wants to include the growing population of seniors needs to take stock of not just how they train their staff but how they offer their services. And that’s not just for those with dementia. It’s for anyone who starts to have challenges such as loss of mobility, deteriorating hearing and sight, slower reactions – and even different views on what constitutes good service.

Here’s an example.

We have locally a hugely successful garden centre, farm shop and PYO farm. People come long distances to visit.

The garden centre has just spent a serious amount of money on building a very glamourous new café. It’s big, looks good and offers a huge range of delicious cakes.
But there are aspects that don’t work for an older clientele. That’s especially true for the growing population who are living reasonably successfully with dementia and can still manage on their own for the most part.

picjumbo.com_HNCK4347What are the guidelines that could have helped?

1. Low noise. Even with just a few people in the café the acoustics are really poor. Anyone with poor hearing will struggle quite quickly. People with dementia are disturbed by loud noise. On the plus side there isn’t any of the piped music that can bring conversation to a halt during many a pub lunch.

2. Clear paths. There’s no obvious and clear route to the café from the entrance to the garden centre. Tucked away at the back of the garden centre the café isn’t (yet) clearly signposted and there’s no “roadway”. You have to find your own path around the displays. Great for those who want to browse on their way in but perplexing for those who need simplicity. And as with many places, finding the way out again is difficult too.

3. Straightforward purchasing. Instructions for ordering meals are confusing. There are no menus on the tables so you find your table number, then go back to the noticeboard to choose a meal, then queue up to order it? I haven’t quite worked that one out yet.

4. Logical and consistent routes. The central serving area is circular and you can go to the left or the right. But on the two visits I’ve made, you can’t go right, and the way is sort of blocked by a notice board. Confusing again.

5. Really helpful staff. There are plenty of staff but it’s hard to know who, if anyone, is going to take your order, make your coffee and actually hand over the drink. It seems to take three people. That’s perplexing for anyone, and adding to the challenge is the fact that internal communication (aka chatting to your friend) seems to take priority over serving.

6. Easy access to facilities. They’ve got this right. Along with the café they’ve built new toilets and with a bit more signposting they’ll be very useful. And I can’t comment on how easy the facilities are to use as I’ve yet to use them! But simplicity and common sense are a priority for this market however much being design clever appeals.

7. Comfort. Again, that’s fine. The table seating is very easy to use.

8. Décor. Loud decoration and confusing patterns aren’t good for those with dementia. This café is simple, sophisticated and has lovely views out over the farm fields. So more brownie points.

9. Accessibility. It’s reasonably easy to manoeuvre wheelchairs through to the café (and anyone who doesn’t make this work could have issues with regulations). No steps anywhere and there’s plenty of space between displays, so everyone can get to anywhere in the garden centre. Full marks.

This café will be a great success. But it may not get repeat business from all the senior customers who visit it because there are too many small challenges that add up to a less than perfect customer experience. And for retail businesses today, getting the customer experience right is absolutely vital.

How much do labels matter?

hands-typing-6In the three years that I’ve been writing in the “eldercare” community the thought behind use of language has changed significantly.

Perhaps the biggest change is that people who talk about “suffering from” a condition are chastised. We don’t suffer any more apparently – we live with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis and other diagnoses. This is part of a bigger trend to be more positive in our use of language. That’s a good thing, as long as we don’t use language to pretend a problem doesn’t really exist.

Take the issue of older people feeling that sometimes they are a burden to their family as their challenges grow. I’ve been castigated for the use of the word “burden”. That’s one I would argue about. We can’t stop using a term that people feel for themselves. It’s not really helpful.

On the other hand I was at a meeting of professionals in the care industry where someone suggested that it’s time we re-thought the word “care”. Why? Because it fills people with fear. They don’t want to see themselves as someone who needs care at home or even might have to retire into a care home at some stage. Much better I agree is to talk about providing people with “support” to continue living their lives as much as they can where and how they prefer.

Another one that makes sense is differentiating between “carers” and “caregivers”. The word carer tends to be used to cover all possibilities but professionally carers are people who are paid to provide services at home or in a care home. Caregivers can be thought of as all those family members and friends who provide support and help without payment.

Describing this population can be fraught with difficulty too, especially in a marketing sense. Want to be found? You probably need to use words like “old”, “elderly” and “eldercare”. Want to turn off your audience? Use those same words.

A good read: Words to use and avoid around dementia. Written by people living with the disease.