The Role of Parks and Natural Places in Rural Palliative Care: Experiences and processes for parks engagement

This is a project funded through the Alberta Parks' Social Science Working Group. The principal researcher is Associate Professor Sonya Jakubec at Mount Royal University.

Project description: The literature links advocates in health care and parks through the understanding that nature impacts health and healthy people can impact the ecosystems in which they recreate (Maller et al, 2005). AB Parks program and planning strategies are aligned with these notions and go further in ensuring "everyone [regardless of ability or life stage] belongs outside" (Alberta Parks, 2014). While little is known about the place of parks and nature at end of life, recent research conducted by AB Parks with Mount Royal University (Jakubec, 2016) discovered more about the beliefs, values and perspectives of Albertans regarding the place of parks and nature at end of life. Jakubec et al. (2016) found that over 80% believed that visiting a park or natural place is worth the risk involved and over 90% expressed that they personally would like to have end-of-life experiences in parks and nature. The narrative process uncovered three dominant themes: 1. Death brings people to parks and nature, 2. Nature teaches people to grieve, and 3. Parks and nature reveal death and life.

These discoveries develop the foundation for policy and practice within parks and health sectors that promote access and enjoyment of parks and nature for people nearing end-of-life. Alberta Parks and Alberta Health Services (AHS) are interested in understanding how to better provide access for all those wishing to experience nature. With little data or collective understanding about the practical issues of rural palliative patient experiences of engaging with nature, a pilot exploration of the topic is required and an exploratory action approach is being taken in this study. This study aims to develop an understanding of what constitutes practical and meaningful engagement with parks for those receiving palliative care in rural communities, people who often have a deep affinity with the natural environment though may experience limited access to adapted transportation to get to parks. Alongside developing a menu of experiences and processes for parks engagement for those receiving palliative care and their caregivers, this study will provide a pragmatic and participatory exploration of the barriers, and benefits perceived by the palliative patient, their caregivers as well as palliative care and parks management networks and volunteers. Through collaboration with the AHS Calgary Zone Palliative Care Consult Service - Rural, three to four participants (and their caregivers) will be sought to participate in this pilot project. Through this pilot action research project we will track the communication, transportation, support/volunteer, physical space and accessibility processes for a variety of parks and nature experiences at sites in the rural catchment areas outlined. The choices and experiences of palliative patients and caregivers will also be documented before, during and after their nature experience. Project findings will support decision-making and program planning as well as future research on the impact of such experiences.

Project dates: December 2016 to December 2017



This study resulted in a documentary short film called Peace in the Park (2018). Peace in the Parks examines the role that parks and nature can play in the health care needs of palliative care patients. Sonya Jakubec looks at how nature can assist palliative care patience in their life journey.

Built upon this research, the Friends of Fish Creek Park Society offers the "Good Grief" walking program for those experiencing grief and loss. The program meets a very important need for people; returning grief, death, and loss to a more natural (rather than medical experience). The Glenbow Ranch Prov Park and the Palliative Care Society of the Bow Valley are actively learning and planning to offer some similar programs...all sparked from the work! CTV Calgary did a news clip from the first year (2017) of the "Good Grief" Program.

The project has resulted in a chapter in the book "Health in the Anthropocene" to be published in December of 2019.

Jakubec, S.L., Carruthers Den Hoed, D., Ray, H., Krishnamurthy, A. (2019 - forthcoming).Grieving Nature - Grieving in Nature: The place of parks and natural places in palliative and grief care. In Quilley, S., Zywert, K. (Eds).Health in the Anthropocene: Living well on a finite planet. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.