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Take a Trip for Brain Health

Researchers suggest travel therapy may benefit adults living with dementia

Male caretaker assisting senior woman in using walker at park
Morsa Images

Not that anyone needs an excuse to take a holiday, but researchers in Australia suggest that a break from the daily routine has mental and physical health benefits, including for adults living with dementia.

“Medical experts can recommend dementia treatments such as music therapy, exercise, cognitive stimulation, reminiscence therapy, sensory stimulation and adaptations to a patient’s mealtimes and environment. These are all also often found when on holidays,” lead researcher Jun Wen, a lecturer in tourism and hospitality management in the School of Business and Law at Edith Cowan University, said in a statement.

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Wen and fellow researchers suggest in a paper published in Tourism Management that travel therapy, like music and art therapy, should be available to adults living with dementia. “This research is among the first to conceptually discuss how these tourism experiences could potentially work as dementia interventions,” he said.

Although some research has shown tourism’s health benefits for people in general, additional research is needed to demonstrate how it can enhance the lives of people living with diseases like dementia and depression, Wen said.

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“Tourism is generally considered a form of leisure that liberates people from the everyday. The emotional states, thoughts, and unique memories evoked by tourism have the potential to positively influence the well-being of individuals with dementia,” the researchers wrote.

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Here are some ways, according to the researchers, that a vacation could serve as therapy for adults living with mild to moderate dementia.

• Sightseeing provides an opportunity to get the brain working by stimulating thinking, concentration and memory — especially when interacting with caregivers or other tourists.

• Travel brings people to novel environments where adults living with dementia may “experience new emotions, moods and other reactions, thereby stimulating brain functions that enable them to process such feelings.”

• Hitting the road often requires additional walking or other movement for adults with dementia, which can improve physical fitness and vascular health. “Exercise has been linked to mental well-being, and traveling often involves enhanced physical activity, such as more walking,” Wen said. 

• Sensory experiences, such as massages and aromatherapy that come with spa days, have been shown to reduce agitation in people with dementia.

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• Meals are another sensory experience that can contribute to memories and improve mood. Plus, family-style meals may provide a chance for more social interaction. “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 behavior,” Wen said. 

• Unforgettable life experiences from tourism can be a rich source of memories that can be called upon later through reminiscence therapy — particularly if you’ve kept a video log of your travels — to stimulate memory recall.

• Group or family tours may provide social opportunities that enhance engagement with groups and society.

For people who may not be able to travel, the researchers note that virtual reality tours may also provide therapeutic benefits to adults living with dementia.

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