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Will a vacation benefit people with dementia?


Editor’s note: Jun Wen is a Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Services Marketing at the School of Business and Law at Edith Cowan University (ECU), Australia. An award-winning early-career researcher, Wen was named one of Australia’s Top 40 Rising Stars in 2020 and 2021. The article reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

“The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature heals the disease. – Voltaire. It is well known that medical treatment is not limited to medicine itself. Many of us have heard of music therapy and art therapy, but what about travel therapy? Medical academics have partnered with tourism and marketing researchers to explore ways to use tourism in treatment plans for patients with dementia.

Dementia is one of the main causes of dependency in the elderly. The progressive deterioration of cognitive functions is the hallmark of the disease. This deterioration results in agitation, depression, physical handicaps and a reduced quality of life. The global population of older adults with dementia is expected to reach over 131 million by 2050, so it’s likely that you’ll have to support a loved one with the disease at some point in your life.

While some symptoms of dementia can be controlled with medication, there is no cure for the disease. In addition to medication, medical experts recommend treatments that do not involve medication.

Some of these interventions include music therapy, exercise, cognitive stimulation, reminiscence therapy, sensory stimulation, and adaptations to the patient’s mealtimes and environment. Dementia treatment and care for people with dementia places a huge economic burden on society. Therefore, the search for cost-effective and/or alternative therapies is continuous and essential.

The tourist experience is complex and goes beyond satisfaction. The tourist experience encompasses feelings, emotions, emotional states, education, information opportunities, memories, intellectual stimulation, involvement and sensory encounters.

Positive psychology refers to quality of life and positive life events and influences. When you consider the sheer magnitude of the tourist experience, it is not difficult to see how tourism could be framed as a positive psychological intervention that improves a tourist’s overall well-being and quality of life.

Specialists in tourism, marketing and medicine have worked together to come up with ways to harness the benefits of tourism experiences to help patients with dementia. Travel is a powerful way to stimulate cognitive functions by planning and anticipating a trip first, followed by sightseeing, reflection, concentration, and recall during and after a trip.

In order to enjoy the sights while traveling, there is inevitably some exercise. Helping patients with dementia maintain optimal physical health is important in preventing injuries from falls.

Additionally, the improved endurance due to exercise provides more opportunities for interactions beyond their home environment. Changing the environment alone is an effective way to stimulate the mind and provide patients with dementia with a new sensory experience.

There are often ethnic or unique dishes served in new locations that bring a sense of adventure to mealtimes. Additionally, mealtimes while traveling provide opportunities for positive interactions between members of a traveler’s party.

These social interactions are beneficial for patients with dementia. In almost all travel destinations, music is present. This can take the form of live or recorded music in a restaurant or loudspeakers on a walk. There is often a cultural niche in the music of a particular destination that can stir up emotions and moods.

Let’s not forget the bottom line: many forms of tourism involve fresh air and sunshine, boosting both vitamin D and serotonin levels. Once you stop to appreciate all that comes together to represent a holistic tourism experience, you can see how patients with dementia can benefit from tourism as an intervention.

A team approach to dementia treatment helps ensure the best possible care, and decisions about tourism as an intervention should be made with input from the whole team, including medical staff, carers and family members.

There may be times when travel is not a viable intervention for patients with dementia, as well as those with more advanced disease progression. In cases where a patient is unable to travel, virtual reality tourism could be considered.

Even without physical travel, virtual reality tourism would still provide cognitive stimulation, reminiscences and musical therapies, and possibly psychological interventions through interactions with support staff and family members regarding the experience of virtual trip.

From the perspective of a tourist destination, there are many opportunities to market a destination as ‘dementia friendly’. Reception staff can do their best to welcome customers with psychological disorders in a positive atmosphere.

Some destinations may be able to incorporate additional sensory exhibits that would provide a richer experience for visitors with dementia. When dementia patients and their caregivers have enjoyable experiences in a particular destination, it is likely to become a favorite place to visit.

The researchers who invested their efforts in this research have just begun the process – they cared enough to think outside the box when it comes to dementia treatment interventions. That shouldn’t be the end of the story. As a successful entrepreneur, Tim Ferriss, once said, “It’s not enough to think outside the box. Get used to thinking outside the box. We need more intellectual energy invested in specific action plans related to this topic to better serve our aging population.

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