Many of us have heard of music therapy and art therapy — but what about travel therapy? A new cross-disciplinary paper from Edith Cowan University suggests we should change the way we view tourism, seeing it not just as recreation but as an industry that provides real health benefits for those facing a future with dementia and related conditions.
The collaboration between ECU’s Centre for Precision Health and School of Business and Law found that going on holiday could have a positive impact on those with a variety of mental health issues.
Can holidays delay or avoid dementia?
Lead researcher Dr Jun Wen said the diverse team of tourism, public health and marketing experts investigated how tourism experiences could benefit the growing number of Australians living with dementia.
‘Medical experts can recommend dementia treatments such as music therapy, exercise, cognitive stimulation, reminiscence therapy, sensory stimulation and adaptations to a patient’s mealtimes and environment,’ said Dr Wen. ‘These are all also often found when on holidays.
‘This research is among the first to conceptually discuss how these tourism experiences could potentially work as dementia interventions.’
Holiday fun or treatment?
Dr Wen said the varied nature of tourism meant there were many opportunities to incorporate treatments for conditions such as dementia.
For example, being in new environments and having new experiences could provide cognitive and sensory stimulation.
‘Exercise has been linked to mental well-being, and travelling often involves enhanced physical activity, such as more walking,’ said Dr Wen.
‘Mealtimes are often different on holiday; they’re usually more social affairs with multiple people and family-style meals have been found to positively influence dementia patients’ eating behaviour,’ he said.
‘And then there’s the basics like fresh air and sunshine increasing vitamin D and serotonin levels. Everything comes together to represent a holistic tourism experience, which makes it easy to see how patients with dementia might benefit from tourism as an intervention.’
‘Tourism has been found to boost physical and psychological well-being,’ he said. ‘After COVID, it’s a good time to identify tourism’s place in public health — and not just for healthy tourists, but vulnerable groups.’
A shift in thinking
Dr Wen said COVID-19’s impact on travel in recent years had raised questions about tourism’s value beyond lifestyle and economic factors.
He hopes a new line of collaborative research could begin to examine how tourism can enhance the lives of people with various conditions.
‘We’re trying to do something new in bridging tourism and health science,’ he said. ‘There will have to be more empirical research and evidence to see if tourism can become one of the medical interventions for different diseases like dementia or depression.
‘Tourism is not just about travelling and having fun; we need to rethink the role tourism plays in modern society,’ said Dr Wen.