It may seem like a obvious statement to make, but given the recent requirements for face coverings as well as the lack of acknowledgement of the dangers of them, I feel it may be worth while pointing out that fresh air is vital to so many aspects of wellness. I am not making a political statement here, I am simply reminding us of something we all know.
I have always made it a point of encouraging anyone living with dementia to get outside as much as possible. Even as a very young carer working in nursing homes, the amazing Matrons that ran things insisted that everyone spend time in the garden, or at the very least at the opening of some big doors. If it was cold, we put more layers on.
Fresh air help the oxygen levels in your blood go up which in turn provides the brain with vital flow of nutrients and energy it needs. I could go further and discuss the benefits of frsh air on the lungs too but we are definately in dangerous waters there if I want to keep this to the point. When the brain has the necessary things to function it can do the job it needs to do better, simple. This is all as a baseline requirement before we even start to talk about the particulars of an individuals brain. Obviously there are other things that go along side this for optimum results but this simple but often overlooked fact can go some way even on ts own.
So often I see families is crisis who have, through no fault of their own, come up with strategies to ‘cope’ as best they can with the deterioration of a loved ones cognitive ability. They find a nice comfortable chair in the house and make their loved one as comfortable as possible and do everything possible for them. Both caregiver and care receiver do not leave the house for days or even weeks for a desperately needed change of scenery. They become so adapted to the ‘hide away to get through it’ way of life that they often fail to recognise they are in survival mode. The windows and doors are all closed for temperature control and safety reasons and time passes without any fresh air, open space or sunshine on the skin for either of them. I once knew a lady who did this for 11 years while caring for her husband and by the end of those 11 years, they were both in big trouble.
I could make list a long of the basic things we need to be able to help with declining cognition, but for the sake of this post we will stick to fresh air as a baseline.
Before lockdown I visited a lady weekly for a few years in a secure unit in a nursing home. This lady was very elderly and vulnerable. She had dementia and lifelong bipolar so could sometimes be quite aggressive. She had very complex needs which was why the local authority called me in to her. One of the first things I did for her was I arranged a suitable wheelchair, shoes and a coat (which she did not have when I met her) I took her into the garden as she had not left the building for over 4 years. I will never forget the look on her face and the sound she made when the wind blew over her. I felt her pleasure and my heart hurt for her at the realisation that she and so many others have not had the benefit of this simple but vital pleasure.
There is no judgement in this post to anyone who is in this situation. I know how difficult it can be to do anything other than keeping things together as best as possible. It is however a gentle reminder to everyone to get some fresh air. If getting outside is not an option, open all of the windows and doors for a few minutes every day. Sit at an open window or door for a little while or at the very least freshen and declutter the room you are in regularly.
In my experience, common sense is always the best place to start. Sometimes we can not see the woods for the trees so to speak and we look for a medical answer (of which there are next to none in this situation) when the foundations of what we need to do are simple and obvious in moments of clarity. It is so tough when we are in crisis, but so many things can be made a bit better with it.