Beach school provides ‘relaxation and comfort’ to those living with dementia

A group of residents at a dementia specialist care home in Chelmsford are the first to trial beach school sessions.

A group of residents at a dementia specialist care home in Chelmsford are the first to trial beach school sessions.

Similar to the more well-known forest school, beach school is an educational initiative usually aimed at children.

The care home team at Cherry Wood Grange, on Writtle Road, are working with Beach School Explorers to discover how the immersive experience of building sandcastles and looking at seaside memorabilia can improve cognitive function and reduce anxiety in people living with dementia.

Cherry Wood Grange, which offers residential, dementia and end of life care, organise for beach school practitioners Lisa Brazier and Maria Mansfield to facilitate the monthly activity.

The home’s lifestyle lead, Bex Harmer, has been impressed with the programme’s positive impact. She said: “We had our first beach school back in March, having heard about the wonderful things the Beach School Explorers do with school children across Essex.

“We are always looking for new ways to improve the lives of our residents living with dementia, so when Lisa approached us, we jumped at the chance to take part.

“It’s the first time that Lisa and her team have trialled beach school with care home residents and the results have been remarkable. We have witnessed first-hand the comfort and relaxation if offers.

“You can see the joy on the residents’ faces, it brings back fond memories of their own childhood, and they recall wonderful stories of seaside holidays with their children.”

Andy Taylor, aged 77, made Cherry Wood Grange her home at the start of 2021 and loves attending beach school. She lives in Daffodil, the home’s dementia specialist suite.

“The feel of the sand and looking at the old seaside postcards transports me back to holidays with my three children at Frinton-on-Sea,” said Andy.

“It’s a place very close to my heart and it brings back such lovely memories.”

Daffodil resident Sydney Durling, aged 83, likes to look at the different shells and learn more about each one.

“Sydney engages very well during the sessions,” continued Bex, “he loves building sandcastles and the activity holds his attention for the whole 90-minutes!

“One of our other residents, Colin Johnson, especially loves listening to the summer classics that Lisa plays during beach school, like ‘Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside’. You can see how happy it makes him, he sings along and even gets up and has a little dance.”

Beach school practitioner Lisa Brazier, owner of Beach School Explorers, plans to take the initiative to other care homes, following the success of the programme at Cherry Wood Grange.

She explained: “A simple activity such as building a sandcastle can help to improve cognitive function, reduce anxiety, and keep hands and minds active.

“We always have fun and there is always lots of conversation and laughter. We provide beach bingo and have plenty of memorabilia to help trigger reminiscence, such as old seaside books, postcards, Punch & Judy, sticks of rock and even a toy donkey.

“There are similarities with the activities we do with the children, but care home beach school is much more relaxed and a calmer experience.”

Sue Smith, manager at the home, added: “We are planning a day trip to the beach during the summer where our beach schoolers will spend time at the seaside with some of the children who attend Beach School Explorers.

“We can’t wait, it’s going to be a wonderful experience for all!”

Cherry Wood Grange are rated ‘Good’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and were Regional Finalists at the Great British Care Awards 2023 for ‘Putting People First’.

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