How travel may benefit brain health

The study authors proposed the potential benefits of tourism, sometimes called “travel therapy,” in treating people with dementia.

One definition of tourism the researchers used was “visiting places outside one’s everyday environment for no longer than a full year.” They note that the experience of tourism has four main components to it:

how it impacts feelings, emotions, and mood (affective experience)
how it affects thoughts and memories (cognitive experience)
how it impacts behavior (conative experience)
how it impacts the senses (sensorial experience)


The study authors concluded that tourism may have a potentially positive impact on well-being and quality of life through a variety of components. Still, literature supporting this in the treatment of dementia is limited.

Based on their literature review and expert opinion, the researchers proposed how tourism may address components of non-pharmacological interventions in people with dementia. Tourism could impact the following areas and many other elements of treatment:

Cognitive and sensory stimulation:

Travel stimulates thoughts and knowledge, which may benefit people with dementia. It could also involve experiencing sensations that improve behavior and well-being.


Environment:

Travel puts people in a new environment and can increase social interaction, which can stimulate brain function for people with dementia.


Exercise:

By its nature, travel involves movement and exercise. Maintenance and improving physical function can help people with dementia.
The use of musical therapy: While travel doesn’t always involve music, music can help to improve brain function and boost mood in people with dementia. Travel that has more of a musical focus could therefore be beneficial.


Reminiscence:

Talking about and remembering past experiences can be helpful for people with dementia. Tourism may help stimulate memories in people with dementia.
The study authors added that focusing on components of positive psychology, such as what people can do, positive experiences, and well-being may also benefit people with dementia. They proposed a few ways to implement components of tourism to help people with dementia, such as group travel that promotes social interactions or traveling to locations that stimulate the senses.

Study author Dr. Jun Wen, a lecturer in tourism and hospitality management in the School of Business and Law at Edith Cowan University, noted the following to Medical News Today:

“All tourism experiences offer elements of anticipation and planning, both of which stimulate brain function. Exercise is often an important component of tourism experiences, and it is frequently included in dementia intervention plans. Tourism experiences such as a beach visit offer dementia patients sensory stimulation, boosting one’s mood, exercise, music therapy, and instilling a sense of freedom as non-medicine dementia interventions. Group travel may simulate psychological interventions, and music at a destination is in line with music therapy programs for those with dementia.” – Dr. Jun Wen

Areas for continued research
While there is limited data, the idea of the benefits of travel is not new.

For example, Andrea Robinson, PhD, wrote in a 2017 Psychopharmacology and Substance Abuse newsletter about the benefits of travel to mental health:

“Vacations can also improve our mental health by reducing depression and anxiety. Vacations can improve mood and reduce stress by removing people from the activities and environments that they associate with stress and anxiety. A Canadian study of over 800 lawyers found vacations reduced depression and buffered against job stress. Even a short vacation can reduce stress. A small Japanese study found a short, three-day leisure trip reduced perceived levels of stress and reduced levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol.” –Andrea Robinson, PhD.

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