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Research and Projects

'My Nature' - Supporting healthcare professionals to improve older people’s sensory experiences of the natural world

Theme: Mental Health & Dementia
Status: Live

The 'My Nature' project aims to enhance quality of life for older people living in residential/nursing care by developing a toolkit for staff to help residents engage with nature, in collaboration with the Sensory Trust.


A systematic review carried out by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH), in collaboration with the Sensory Trust and PenCLAHRC, and published in BMC Geriatrics found that older people derive considerable pleasure and enjoyment from viewing, being and doing in nature. Their sensory experiences in nature can have a positive impact on their wellbeing and quality of life, through helping them feel part of ordinary life and connected to the wider world.

Additional research by PenCLAHRC's Evidence Synthesis Team has suggested that gardens in care homes may have a positive impact on the wellbeing of residents with dementia. Evidence showed gardens could improve social contact, with friends and family valuing them as a less institutional setting for visits, stimulating conversation and reconnecting people with memories. Staff reported gardens relaxed residents, reduced agitation and helping them remember skills and habits that brought enjoyment in the past.

However, for older people living in care homes, there are a number of barriers that can prevent them from engaging with the natural environment. These include sensory impairments, poor physical and mental health, weather conditions, lack of staff time to supervise, and lack of staff confidence or knowledge to implement nature-based activities for residents.

Project aims

Funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account, this project will build on the findings of the systematic reviews and previous ESRC-funded research, to develop 'My Nature: A Training Toolkit' to help staff in the residential/nursing care sector deliver nature-based activities.

PenCLAHRC and ECEHH are collaborating with the Sensory Trust to develop the toolkit. The Sensory Trust’s primary mission is to make outdoor places and the natural environment more accessible and attractive, bringing social, health and wellbeing benefits to people whose lives are affected by social exclusion.

Caring for older people in the residential/nursing sector is a very demanding and complex task, as many care home residents have high levels of physical dependency, cognitive impairment and multiple health problems. The toolkit aims to give staff an opportunity to develop their skills and enhance their job satisfaction, as well as benefitting the care home residents.

Project activity

  1. The 'My Nature' toolkit will be developed from the findings of the systematic reviews, in collaboration with the University of Exeter and the Sensory Trust.
  2. The toolkit will be piloted in two care home settings in Cornwall - Coombe House, Liskeard and Castle Hill House, Bodmin, to gain feedback and produce case studies on the toolkit’s impact.
  3. The findings and case studies will be disseminated to care homes and the research community, and the toolkit will be launched at a collaborative workshop. 

Anticipated outputs

The toolkit will be devised to help care staff use sensory nature activities for older people based on their preferences, wishes and abilities. It will address support for those with all levels of mobility and sensory impairments, including those bed-bound and at end of life.

Pilot and case study reports
The team will deliver workshops to both care homes involved in the pilot to introduce the toolkit to staff and help them tailor it to individual residents. Participants will feedback on the implementation of the toolkit over a one-month period and share best practice at the end of the month. Ten care staff and 20 people with dementia will be involved in the workshops.

Launch of 'My Nature' and publications
The toolkit will be launched at a half day workshop in Truro, principally targeted at care practitioners in Cornwall and Devon. The project team aim to eventually increase dissemination of the toolkit beyond the South West region by co-authoring two articles with the Sensory Trust. 

Related projects

Related publications

Orr, N., Wagstaffe, A., Briscoe, S. & Garside, R. (2016) How do older people describe their sensory experiences of the natural world? A systematic review of the qualitative evidence. BMC Geriatrics 16: 116


The Sensory Trust:

Wendy Brewin - Inclusive Communities Co-ordinator
Vicky Hutchinson - Development Manager
Stuart Spurring - Assistant Director