Care for the soul, forest and nature

This article is written from a Swedish perspective, but will hopefully serve as inspiration for those interested from other countries.

Many older people reflect on life. Pastoral care, spending time in the forest and nature, meditation, and other activities can provide peace. Getting out into the forest, to the lake, or participating in worship means a lot for many people's well-being. Beautiful music can also be a balm for the soul.

Foto: Mostphotos

Care of the Soul

For many people, walks in the forest and experiences in nature are an essential part of what gives meaning to life.
A dementia patient who normally only spoke one syllable at a time went out into the forest. It was early autumn and the trees were starting to turn yellow and red. The autumn air was high and clear. They came down a hill and after a turn, there stood a large beautiful tree. With tears in her eyes, the woman suddenly said, "how beautiful the oak is".


Nature means a lot to most people in our country. We jog, hike, pick berries, fish, have summer houses and caravans. A large part of the population spends a lot of time outdoors. For many who move to a nursing home, that opportunity ends. They may have seen the forest or been out on the lake for the last time.

With a little planning and imagination, most nursing homes can create the opportunity to relive the encounter with nature. Many communities have accessible nature trails, handicap-friendly docks, viewpoints, or other places that facilitate encounters with nature for those with disabilities.

Botanical gardens, parks, heritage farms, and bathing places are often accessible for those in wheelchairs.
Those who work within LSS often have good tips on excursion destinations. There are aids such as tandem bicycles and transport services. Excursions often require some planning but they are not impossible.
Transport services can be another way for residents to get out. The easiest way is to create an idea bank with the places that are within reach. It is possible to visit the same place several times if you make sure to vary those who accompany. There are homes that offer a forest walk for those who can walk on their own every day.

It can be difficult to consistently plan time for walks in the forest. Some residents may find a forest walk too strenuous. To increase the well-being of our elderly, we must create conditions to be able to stay in the garden or nature without it requiring much from the resident.

There are nursing homes that plan daily walks with anyone who can and wants to participate. This helps maintain mobility and agility among the residents.

Often, a lot can be done in the immediate environment of the nursing home to facilitate outdoor stays. It may be possible to remove obstacles, get raised cultivation beds, a small bubbling fountain and put out benches with the possibility of sun and shade. Butterflies and bumblebees like herb plants that both smell and taste. The only limit is imagination. Today, there is a large selection for the garden that can easily and affordably create comfort for the residents and the staff. There are many ways to evoke memories. If the opportunity for a forest visit does not exist, one can for example "bring in the forest" to the residents. Clean lingonberries, blueberries, grill "kolbullar" on a fire pit in the garden, talk about hunting, fishing etc.

Music Experiences

Music experiences with, for example, classical music, hymn singing, or just singing along to old hits can also contribute to caring for the soul for many. Thinking about nice memories through nostalgic trips also contributes to well-being for many.

Contact with religious communities

Many residents have a faith or a habit of visiting their congregation. Health limits the opportunities to get to the service. It is a right to practice your religion even for those living in nursing homes.

Some nursing homes have some form of church affiliation. A number of nursing homes are run by diaconal institutions, Jewish congregations, and others. If you belong to the Church of Sweden, you probably have relatively good opportunities to participate in services at most nursing homes. Even Catholics, Syrians, Muslims or those who belong to a free church may have a wish to participate in a service.

For those who do not live in a big city, the range is poorer. Often there is only one nursing home to choose from. A nursing home with ambitions to meet the residents' wishes can find solutions. Today, there are webcast services. If there are wishes, it is often possible to watch a service on TV.

One option might be to visit the resident's congregation together with the contact person during their own time. Another way is to help the resident contact the congregation. Sometimes the deacon, priest, or imam can come to the nursing home for a visit. To know how the resident wants it when life is nearing its end, we need to talk about these sometimes difficult issues. This can be particularly important if there are no relatives.

For some, hymn singing or other religious songs can be a comfort.

Reflection - Care of the Soul
Care Staff:
• When were you last in the forest with residents?
• How do you work with planning outdoor stays?
• Is it possible to use "own time" to get out into nature?
• Do you have residents who are religious?
• In what way can you help them practice their religion?

Manager, Nurse, Occupational Therapist and Physiotherapist:
• How can you create conditions for the residents to get out into nature more often?
• What is your view on religious practice?
• Do you have any cooperation with congregations?
• Are there suitable spaces for those who wish to have a devotional moment with the residents?

Residents and Relatives:
• Does your relative get out into nature sometimes?
• Is there a desire to get out?
• Does the nursing home provide good support for those who wish to practice their religion?

Erland Olsson
Specialist Nurse
Better care every day

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