Nature films reduce anxiety in people in early stages of dementia

Nature films have been found to lessen anxiety in people in the early stages of dementia and reduce symptoms of sundowning, according to a new study.

When the sun starts to go down at the end of the day, people with dementia often display symptoms of increased restlessness and confusion, this psychological condition is known as sundowning.

Dr Craig Knight, honorary research fellow at Exeter University, worked in partnership with Somerset Care and video production company Calmer By Nature to explore whether DVDs of the British countryside had a beneficial impact on residents with dementia, particularly sundowning.

Dr Knight said: “We found that playing nature DVDs has a calming effect on residents.”

However this overall calming effect appeared to be transitory, according to the study.

“There seems no general long term fix can be had by playing nature DVDs in order to reduce sundowning. Indeed the data suggest that overplaying the DVDs had a negative effect so that residents would avoid them.

Nevertheless we do seem to have found something with a topical, general short term and possibly individual long term benefit,” said Dr Knight.

First aid tool kit

Barry Wheelock, chief executive of Calmer By Nature, said that the DVDs need to be used like a first aid tool kit. “The study found that people were drawn to the films for two to three weeks. I think they are particularly beneficial for people in the early stages of dementia or if they have sundowning issues.

“But if you look at it every day the effect will wear off. It definitely helps with stress and dementia and provides a lovely atmosphere for the staff. Everybody instinctively feels comfortable with nature.”

The research team looked at the impact on residents in two care homes over a three month period. The first in Burnham-on-Sea hosted the experiment, the second in Williton acted as the control.

In Burnham, staff played one of two nature DVDs, produced by Calmer by Nature, in one of two television lounges (the other TV lounge played standard television programmes).

Anxiety levels reduced

The results showed that on average, during the first three weeks of the study, anxiety levels amongst Burnham residents were 19.2 per cent lower than amongst residents at the Williton home.

At the same time, the residents in Burnham-on-Sea were showing an active preference for the nature DVDs over their usual soap opera favourites. During this period the Calmer by Nature DVDs were, on average 127 per cent more popular than the residents’ usual television favourites.

However, over the course of the study the effects of the DVDs wore off. By the last three weeks of the experiment the situation had almost entirely reversed with the DVDS becoming, on average, 64 per cent less popular than the standard television programmes showing elsewhere in the residents’ home. Some residents actively avoided the DVDs as they had seen them before.

Dr Knight is enthusiastic about the results of this study and positive about the opportunities for further research.

Dr Knight said “This simple, entirely non-invasive piece of work suggests that it may be possible to effectively tackle sundowning. If we finesse our toolkit, it seems plausible that older adults with dementia may be able to look forward to increased social interaction, with fewer demands on care staff and an improved quality of life over the longer term. And all this without recourse to drugs – what’s not to like?”

The idea of Calmer By Nature came to Barry Wheelock gradually. “It sort of evolved. I used to go the woods and shoot animals. One day I watched a beautiful fox walk past me and I got rid of my rifle and got a camera instead.

“I realised I was sitting on lots of film footage. I met an occupational therapist who worked with people with sensory issues and realised my nature films could be hugely beneficial. Around this time I started supplying the Alzheimer’s Society.

“The films carry you in a click to special wild places, rivers, woods, forests, wildlife and the sea. 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.”

Training package for care homes

He has now devised a training package for care homes which also comes with a licence.

“At a later date I hope to target City workers with my films as I think it would help with their stress and anxiety.”

Poldhu Care Home run by the Swallowcourt Group use the DVDs, with Sue Giles, the activities coordinator saying: “We watch the DVDs as a group and imagine we are travelling along the river and through woodlands, after we have watched the film we talk together about the memories it brings back and it encourages residents to talk to each other and also gives them confidence to do this.

“Our residents with dementia like to watch the films in our sensory room one to one where there are no distractions, they find this very calming.

“We also use them for the people we have who suffer from sundowners. It gives them a distraction and we find it helps them settle before having supper and going to bed which can be a very difficult time for them and the staff.

“In addition we have a lady who has very severe anxiety, we use the CD for her and it relaxes her to the stage that she calms right down and even relaxes and goes to sleep listening to it.”

To view footage from the DVDs go to:

click here for more details or to contact Calmer By Nature

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