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Can a Virtual Nature Environment Enhance Well-Being Among Individuals With Dementia?

By: Lori Reynolds  

Over 90% of people with dementia experience emotions of agitation and/or anxiety, with associated behaviors, that can be very difficult for caregivers to manage, creating high levels of stress and turnover among dementia care staff. In the United States there is prevalent use of psychotropic medications, and limited research to support many of the care strategies being used. However, research supports that when individuals with dementia have direct contact with nature stress, agitation, negative emotions, and the need for psychotropic medications are reduced. Research also support that some of these same benefits are found when simply viewing nature. This study explores how to create a virtual nature environment, and shares the results of a recent pilot study in which a virtual nature environment was used to reduce stress and stress-related emotions of anxiety and agitation among individuals with dementia. The pilot study used a crossover design, in which fourteen participants viewed both a high definition video of nature and a generational movie, three times each over the course of three weeks, for a minimum of ten minutes. Heart rate, anxiety, and agitation were assessed before and at ten minutes of participation in each condition. Results showed a statistically significant lowered heart rate, increased pleasure, and reduced anxiety associated with viewing nature compared to viewing the generational movie. Results of this pilot study are very promising that a relatively low-cost virtual nature environment, embedded within an existing memory care program, can enhance quality of life for people living with dementia.

Virtual Nature Environment, Dementia Care, Wellness-Focused Design
Public Policy and Public Perspectives on Aging
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session



Lori Reynolds

Assistant Professor, Occupational Therapy, Northern Arizona University, United States
AZ, United States

Lori Reynolds is Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Northern Arizona University in Phoenix Arizona. She has a PhD in Geronotology, and a certificate in Healthcare Garden Design from the Chicago Botanical Garden. Lori's research is on environments tha promote well-being and fullness of living for older adults, nature inclusive environments for senior living, and inter-professional design collaborations. She is the 2017 recipient of the New Investigator Award from the Center for Health Design for her research on the use of a virtual nature environment for reduction of the stress-related emotions of anxiety and agitation among individuals with dementia. Lori consults with senior living organizations, architects and landscape architects on design of therapeutic garden spaces and wellness programming to promote resident well-being.