Benefits of fresh air and sunshine for senior citizens

With spring in the air and summer on the horizon, there’s no excuse to spend the entire day inside. Fresh air and sunshine have numerous health benefits for us all.

Studies have shown they can improve our quality of sleep, enhance our brain functioning, and help us feel calm and relaxed. Fresh air and sunshine can help seniors fight common aging challenges as well.

Spending time outdoors lifts our spirits, warding feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression. Research has also shown a link between low levels of Vitamin D in both people who already have Alzheimer’s and those who develop the disease later in life – daily time outside may help improve Vitamin D levels over time. That said, fresh air and sunshine can also benefit seniors living with memory loss. Being outdoors may help improve certain behavioral symptoms of dementia, including agitation, aggression and wandering.

Sensory activities

Age-related health changes and memory loss may alter certain aspects of our lives, but time spent outdoors shouldn’t be one of them. It’s important for seniors to continue enjoying outdoor activities they have done all their lives, as this helps them remain connected to the world around them. Multi-

sensory activities can be especially helpful for improving verbal expressions, memory and attention. Listening to the sounds of nature, touching plants, smelling flowers and reminiscing about favorite outdoor memories are wonderful ways to engage the senses while enjoying nature. Seniors should also consider taking exercise outdoors.

Low-impact activities like walking, biking and hiking can strengthen the bones and boost the immune system. And making time outdoors a social event can help older adults create new bonds and feel a stronger sense of belonging.

Barriers to the outdoors

Not everyone has access to outdoor spaces, but even eating a meal outdoors or sitting on a park bench with a loved one can lift our spirits. For seniors prone to isolation, make time outdoors a daily routine. Establishing a routine helps seniors with memory loss feel safe and secure as well. Should wandering or other safety concerns arise, consider activities with little risk, like reading a book or playing a board game outside. Avoiding loud, crowded areas is important for seniors with memory loss, as they can prove too overwhelming and not allow them to enjoy all the benefits that fresh air and sunshine offer.

Outdoor safety

Even small increases in temperature can be dangerous for our health. Be mindful of the weather when summertime begins.

When going outdoors in hot weather, dress in light-colored, cotton clothing and carry water with you. Remember to wear sunscreen as well as protective headgear and eyewear to keep your skin and eyes safe from the sun. The sun’s rays can prove harmful any time of year, even during winter, so don’t neglect these measures when it feels cool and breezy.

Be sure to ask your doctor if any medications you’re taking affect how your body responds to temperature, and ask your doctor what outdoor activities may be best for you. Should you feel light-headed, dizzy or nauseated while outside, get to a cool place as soon as possible.

Know the warning signs of heat stroke, which can be a life-threatening condition. Fainting, heavy breathing, rapid pulse and a body temperature above 104 degrees warrant immediate medical attention.

With a few simple measures, you can safely enjoy time outside. Especially now that spring is here, make time for being outside every day, even if only for a short period. Not only will you love feeling the warm sun on your skin, you’ll be helping your body and mind stay healthy and happy.

Amanda Jillson, CCM, BSW, MS, CDP, is the Executive Director at Bridges by EPOCH at Nashua, a local memory care assisted living community located at 575 Amherst Street. She can be reached at ajillson@bridgesbyepoch.com.