Gardening for Dementia PatientsGardening for Dementia Patients

Gardening has benefits for everyone, from toddlers to adults, because it provides a connection to nature, time outdoors, and a deeper appreciation for living things. Some researchers and geriatric care providers say gardening can be an especially rewarding activity for people with dementia, thanks to the intensely sensory nature of gardening – think bright colors and varied textures – and its ability to reduce stress. You can help a family member or friend with dementia reap the benefits of garden time with some planning and a little work.

Benefits of gardening for dementia patients

A 2012 review of the research into gardening’s effects on senior health in general and dementia patients in particular found several benefits, although the review authors said more research is needed. Still, gardening can help people living with dementia by stimulating the senses, triggering positive memories, lifting mood and reducing stress.  Some studies have found a link between outdoor activities such as gardening and reduced feelings of pain, while others have found that gardening can help with the attention problems that are common in people with dementia.

The stress-busting benefits of gardening apply to caregivers, too. New research indicates that regular gardening – or other regular physical activity – can cut adults’ Alzheimer’s risk by as much as 50 percent.

Tips for creating a safe garden for people with dementia

The Alzheimer’s Society in the UK has published a book called Taking Part: Activities for People with Dementia that includes tips on making a safe garden space. Among the guide’s recommendations are:

  • Enclose the space to make gardeners with dementia feel more secure and to prevent wandering.
  • Provide easy-access pathways that provide a level, non-slip surface for walking and are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
  • Lay out a figure-8 path to work with, rather than against, dementia patients’ tendency to wander.
  • Provide comfortable seating around the garden area, including shady spots for sun protection.

Plant your garden with thornless, non-toxic plants to prevent accidents. Provide gloves, hats, non-slip shoes, kneeling pads or stools, and safe (not sharp) tools with easy-grip handles. Garden gear in bright primary colors can be easier for dementia patients to identify on sight.

Benefits that extend beyond the garden

Situate the garden near a window if you can. There’s some evidence that just looking at the garden from indoors can help people with dementia by reminding them that the garden is there and calling up other positive memories. If the garden produces flowers for arrangements or fresh vegetables and herbs for the table, the benefits extend even farther.

With free guidance from your local extension service, you can choose garden plants that will thrive in your local climate. (You can search for your nearest county extension or cooperative office here.) The right assortment of plants can give the garden blooms and/or produce throughout the year, along with fall foliage and some evergreens to brighten up winter days. You may also want to include plants that attract butterflies and hummingbirds for extra visual interest and to benefit the local environment as well as your loved one with dementia.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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