A clinical psychologist, Neil Mapes, came up with the idea after being frustrated by the existing activities offered to people with dementia which are usually sedentary.
All elements of risk are removed from their lives by carers who are obsessed about their safety – a “vitamin R deficiency” he calls it.
Lack of exercise leads to a downward spiral of low energy, low self-esteem and loneliness.
The psychologist has set up a charity called Dementia Adventures which offers outdoor activities all with an element of risk such as hiking in the Lake District, travelling on canal barges, a sailing trip off the Cornish coast, and a white-water rafting expedition is being planned. The participants take along their carer but look after themselves.
Mapes says “We know that 5 minutes outdoors lifts our mood and can improve self-esteem. Walking for 40 m inures three times week boosts the parts of the brain that shrink with age and promotes the growth of new cells in the brain”. He is now advising care homes on positive risk-taking.
At the recent AgeUK conference at which Mapes talked about his project delegates learned that dementia suffered often retain good procedural memory e.g. how to ride a bike, but their episodic memory deteriorates so sufferers should be encouraged to keep up activities as long as possible.
There are 800,000 sufferers in the UK with 1 in 3 of us likely to develop the condition.