The mind-travel connection: How ‘travel therapy’ could help dementia sufferers

Jun 26, 2022
Dr Wen explained that often the travel environment indirectly stimulates enhanced opportunities for natural dementia treatments like exercise, mealtimes and even fresh air. Source: Getty

A recent paper produced by the Edith Cowan University (ECU) has examined the potential positive effects of travel for those who suffer from dementia.

The study, titled Tourism as a dementia treatment based on positive psychology was created by “a cross-disciplinary team of tourism and dementia experts” for the purpose of providing “insight into the potential benefits of tourism for individuals with dementia” and addressing “pertinent knowledge gaps” in the area of study.

Lead researcher of the innovative new study, Dr Jun Wen, explained that a number of regularly recommended dementia treatments are found when a person is on holiday.

“Medical experts can recommend dementia treatments such as music therapy, exercise, cognitive stimulation, reminiscence therapy, sensory stimulation and adaptions to a patient’s mealtimes and environment,” Wen said.

“These are also often found when on holidays.”

Wen went on to acknowledge the “first of its kind study” which could prove to be beneficial for dementia sufferers regarding possible treatment options.

“This research is among the first of its kind to conceptually discuss how these tourism experiences could potentially work as dementia interventions,” he said.

Wen explained that often the travel environment indirectly stimulates enhanced opportunities for natural dementia treatments like exercise, mealtimes and even fresh air.

“Exercise has been linked to mental wellbeing and travelling often involves enhanced physical activity, such as more walking,” Dr Wen said.

“Mealtimes are often different on holiday: they’re usually more social affairs with multiple people and family-style meals have been found to positively influence dementia patients’ eating behaviour.

“And then there’s the basics like fresh air and sunshine increasing vitamin D and serotonin levels.”

Wen highlighted that the combined elements of a “holistic tourism experience” could pave the way for a new kind of dementia therapy.

“Everything that comes together to represent a holistic tourism experience, makes it easier to see how patients with dementia may benefit from tourism as an intervention.”

Touching on the devastating effects of the global pandemic on travel, Wen recognised society’s perceived inability to see past the leisure and economic benefits of travel.

“Tourism has been found to boost physical and psychological wellbeing,” he said.

“So, after COVID, it’s a good time to identify tourism’s place in public health – and not just for healthy tourists, but vulnerable groups.

“We’re trying to do something in bridging tourism and health science.”

Wen acknowledges that further research efforts are required before tourism can become a formal intervention for dementia sufferers.

“There will be more empirical research and evidence to see if tourism can become one of the medical interventions for different diseases like dementia or depression,” he said.

“So, tourism is not just about travelling and having fun; we need to rethink the role tourism plays in modern society.”

According to Dementia Australia, in 2022, there are an estimated 487,500 Australians living with dementia.

Dementia encompasses a collection of symptoms that are caused by disorders that impact the brain. Dementia affects thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks.

Across the globe, more than 55 million people have dementia with this number expected to double every 20 years, reaching 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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