The benefits for care home residents of spending time in the sunshine

The benefits for care home residents of spending time in the sunshine

Everyone is thrilled that summer has arrived with a vengeance across the UK over the last few weeks - unless you have a garden of course, when a little night time rain would be very welcome!

Most people enjoy spending time outside and being in the fresh air has benefits for everyone, care home residents and staff alike. Being in sunlight and outside spaces has many physical health and mental health benefits. However in the extreme temperatures that we’ve been enjoying recently additional care is needed to ensure that residents have sufficient hydration, plenty of shade and opportunities to get out of the sun and find a cooler spot.

Five reasons why care home residents should spend time outside

To Keep Active
Being active is an important way to stay fit and healthy, and this is naturally a lot easier in the warmer seasons. Be aware of enjoying anything too strenuous when the temperatures are high. 

To improve physical health
Many older people are deficient in vitamin D, an important nutrient for health. The human body relies on sunlight for the production of vitamin D, and people who lack this nutrient are at risk for conditions such as osteoporosis, heart attacks and strokes. It’s important to avoid prolonged sun exposure with the potential risks of skin cancer, but people should still aim to receive several minutes of sunlight each day to help with the production of vitamin D.

To improve mental health
Being able to get outside can help to relieve potential day to day monotony and provide a change of scene. It’s been shown that sunlight and spending time outside can help to alleviate symptoms of depression. SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that can occur when people cannot get enough sunlight, resulting in a drop in serotonin, a chemical produced by nerve cells. Serotonin is believed to help regulate mood and social behaviour, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function.

The sun also plays a strong role in the sleep cycle. Disrupted sleep is a common complaint among older people and can result in a variety of health issues such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. When the body senses natural sunlight, it stops the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep. Spending time in the sun during the morning can help people feel more alert throughout the day and have less trouble falling asleep at night.

Sun exposure during the day can also help the circadian rhythm of older people living with Alzheimer’s. The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour internal clock in the brain which cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. Alzheimer’s can sometimes cause changes in circadian rhythms, damaging the sleep/wake cycle; the symptoms that arise are often referred to as sundowning because they usually occur at night. Exposure to the sun during the day can help to lessen the severity of sundowning and improve the sleep/wake cycle.

To engage in fun activities
Spending time outside is an ideal opportunity to socialise, enjoying the company of other residents, getting to know staff and providing a place to invite family and friends when they come to visit. If the care home has a garden it’s a perfect environment in which to get to know others, perhaps by playing games or enjoying gardening activities. There may be opportunities for staff and residents to get out and about on visits too, perhaps to a local attraction, the seaside or a beauty spot.

To enjoy nature and the great outdoors
Nature itself can provide additional stimulation and give nursing home residents the chance to use all their senses – plants and creatures to see, touch, smell, feel and hear. Growing fruit and vegetables also allows for residents to experience the fresh taste of home grown produce. Nature is a feast for the senses and the sunshine brings flowers and insects to the fore, for everyone to enjoy!

Things to be aware of when it comes to spending time in the sun

  • As a person gets older they become more sensitive to sunlight meaning they will experience sunburn in a shorter period of time than when they were younger.
  • Medications can increase sensitivity to sun exposure so be aware of what a patient is prescribed.
  • Encourage residents to wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
  • Stay hydrated
  • As a basic guide, most people need about 1.5- 2 litres of fluid a day, which is about eight to 10 glasses.
  • Age affects how well a body can balance water and salts and as a person get older, they store less water.
  • Men need more water than women because women have a higher proportion of body fat.
  • Physical activity – drink more if you exercise more.
  • The climate – drink more if it's hot and you're sweating water out of your body.
  • Diet – if on a special diet or very low-calorie diet, you may need to drink more.

Stay safe and stay sunny!