Urban Trees, Woodlands and Forests as Places of Mental Well-being for People with Early-Stage Dementia

  • Mandy Cook

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    The number of people with dementia and people who care for a person with dementia is on the increase. The cost of dementia care is also high and predicted to rise due to this increasing prevalence and decreased availability of family carers. Currently in the UK dementia care costs more than stroke, heart disease and cancer put together (National Audit Office, 2007). The delivery of care and support available for people with dementia is changing, with a growing move towards supporting people with dementia (and carers) to live in the community for as long as possible, inclusion of people with dementia in decisions about their own care, and an increased focus on the importance of asserting and upholding the human rights of people with dementia.

    Several emerging concepts relating to dementia care and support in the community were determined during a review of literature, which went on to outline the contributions of trees, woodlands and green spaces to people’s overall health and well-being, before focusing specifically on dementia. A critical insight into the meaning and use of the specific setting of woodlands and forests, and how they can contribute to positive mental well-being and broader community belonging of people with dementia, was investigated by adopting ethnographic, participatory action research and case study approaches. Qualitative research, using a multi-phase, multi-method approach (triangulation), provided knowledge and understanding about how activities in an urban forest environment can add value to and benefit the lives of people with dementia living independently. Data was collected from semi-structured, in-depth, and walk-along interviews, as well as from piloting a programme of activities based in an urban forest setting for people with early-stage dementia.
    The intentionally designed experiences (IDEs) model (Ewert et al., 2010) has been adapted to present the findings from this research, which show how through active use of woodlands and forests, people with dementia find their experiences to be meaningful. Approaches to use of trees, woodlands and forests offer opportunities for people with dementia to engage in a variety of outdoor activities. These range from personal and individual sensory experiences, to more active and interactive participation. Through their involvement in these activities, people with dementia found meaning in the pleasure and enjoyment they experienced, in their feeling that they still belonged in the world, and in their ability to retain a sense of autonomy and identity. The approaches offer a viable alternative to traditional residential and day care activities, as well as an opportunity to promote the quality of life of people with dementia living in their own homes.

    The research reflects on the practical implications of the findings in terms of future policy development and the future management of trees, woodlands and forests in Scotland.
    Date of Award2017
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council, UK & Scottish Government
    SupervisorEdward Hall (Supervisor) & Thilo Kroll (Supervisor)

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