Dementia is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. In the UK alone, there are an estimated 850,000 people diagnosed with the memory-loss condition, according to the Alzheimer's Society. People experiencing the onset of dementia may begin to show signs of restlessness and frustration as symptoms like confusion start to occur. This is particularly true when the sun goes down - a condition called sundowning. A recent study by researchers at Exeter University discovered that watching nature films may reduce the side effects of sundowning in those in the early stages of dementia.
The NHS says that people who are first diagnosed with dementia often experience a few symptoms in particular, including difficulty finding the right words, becoming unfamiliar with once well-known people or environments and shifts in personality or mood. These side effects can cause anxiety, irritability and depression.
The Exeter University researchers partnered with a video production company called Calmer by Nature to see if showing nature DVDs would have a calming effect on assisted living residents in the beginning stages of memory loss.
Residents find solace in nature
The scientists compared the results from two groups of participants over a three-month period. For one group, they played standard television shows and for the other they showed the nature films. While the people watched TV, the researchers assessed the anxiety levels of each person with an interactive questionnaire. The results showed that the group that watched the nature DVDs had anxiety levels that were 19.2 per cent lower than those in the control group.
The findings also pointed to the fact that the participants who viewed the nature films preferred them over their favourite soap operas. In fact, during the first three weeks, they were 127 per cent more popular than the standard TV shows. The videos were designed to make those watching them feel they are at the tranquil and beautiful scenes that are displayed.
"The films carry you in a click to special wild places, rivers, woods, forests, wildlife and the sea," Barry Wheelock, chief executive officer of Calm By Nature, told Carehomes.co.uk. "You will be on the banks of dramatic rivers and enjoy close intimate moments with four different types of wild deer, including a magnificent red stag bellowing through the forest during the rut. You can watch swallows and woodpeckers feeding their young, sheep with their lambs calling and seals swimming in the sea with their pups."
The scientists noted that it wasn't just the participants who reported feeling calm and at ease as they watched the films, but the care home staff as well.
Effects last for limited time
While the nature videos did have positive effects on the viewers, by the time the final three weeks of the study occurred, the impact began to wear off. The popularity of the DVDs also declined, becoming 64 per cent less preferred than the standard programmes shown in the control group. By the end of the study, there was no difference in the anxiety levels between both groups.
"The videos only had a short-term impact on patients."
Dr. Craig Knight, lead author of the study and honorary research fellow at Exeter University, says that, although the videos only had a short-term impact on the participants, the findings show that nature films can work as effective tools to reduce stress, anxiety and other sundowning side effects. The method is promising because it's noninvasive and doesn't involve any drugs.
The next step that Knight and his team want to take is finding a way to make the films have a longer lasting impact on viewers. This could mean straying from nature videos and, instead, showing DVDs that relate to how residents see themselves.
Knight used the example of someone who was once a teacher. They may benefit from watching a film depicting classrooms and students. This could fill them with confidence and provide them with the familiarity and peace of mind that reduces feelings of stress and additional sundowning symptoms. If the researchers receive the necessary funding, this new personal approach is expected to ensure the videos have long-term effects.
At Gracewell care homes, our professional carers provide residents with dementia full-time support and attention to ensure they are healthy, happy and comfortable. To learn more about how we can help, contact us today.