Background: Despite the increased scholarly interest in the senses and sensory experiences, the topic of older people's sensory engagement with nature is currently under researched. This paper reviews and synthesises qualitative research evidence about how older people, including those living with dementia, describe their sensory engagement with the natural world.
Methods: Ten databases were searched from 1990 to September 2014: MEDLINE (Ovid), MEDLINE-in-Process (Ovid), PsycINFO (Ovid), CINAHL (EBSCO), GreenFILE (EBSCO), ProQuest Sociology, ASSIA (ProQuest), International Bibliography of the Social Sciences (ProQuest); HMIC (Ovid); Social Policy and Practice (Ovid). Forward and backward citation chasing of included articles was conducted; 20 organizations were contacted to identify unpublished reports. Screening was undertaken independently by two reviewers.
Results: Twenty seven studies were included. Thematic analysis revealed that descriptions of sensory experiences are encompassed within six themes: descriptions from 'the window'; sensory descriptions that emphasise vision; descriptions of 'being in nature'; descriptions of 'doing in nature'; barriers to sensory engagement; and meanings of being and doing in nature.
Conclusions: Older people derive considerable pleasure and enjoyment from viewing nature, being and doing in nature which, in turn has a positive impact on their wellbeing and quality of life. Future research could usefully explore how sensory engagement with nature could be used to stimulate reminiscences of places and people, and evoke past sensory experiences to enrich everyday life and maintain a sense of self. The protocol was registered with PROSPERO ( CRD42015020736 ).
Keywords: Environment; Nature; Older people; Outdoors; Qualitative; Sensory; Systematic review.