Gardening with dementia – which is important now with Covid 19 when people with dementia are at home more than normal, the garden can be another place to share and enjoy. Gardens can be wonderfully therapeutic for everyone. They’re a place to unwind, enjoy fresh air, sunlight and maybe do a spot of pruning or planting. There’s no reason why someone with dementia can’t enjoy these same simple pleasures.
Why gardens are great:
1. Gardens don’t just offer a change of scenery, they also boost health. Exposure to mild sunlight provides the body with vitamin D which can keep bones healthy and protect against diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes and cancer.
2. Studies have shown that gardens (and gardening) can help beat depression and the blues, reduce stress and anxiety and lower blood pressure.
3. Gardens that stimulate all the senses (known as sensory gardens) are particularly beneficial to someone with dementia. For example, being able to see, smell, or touch a favourite flower or plants can contribute greatly to emotional wellbeing.
Your garden checklist:
1. Are gates and fences secure?
Why: First things first, if you’re going to be encouraging the person you’re caring for to potter around in the garden you need to make sure they’re safe, especially if they’re prone to wandering.
– Fix holes in fences and fit gates at the bottom of the garden with a key so you have the choice to lock them if necessary.
– If you’re still worried about them getting lost, you could place shrubs in front of the garden gate to hide it from obvious view.
2. Is there somewhere to shelter?
Why: Don’t let unpredictable weather spoil or limit the amount of time the person you’re caring for can spend in the garden. Whilst nobody wants to sit outside in the pouring rain, a bit of drizzle or a cool breeze doesn’t have to mean going back inside if there’s a sheltered area
– If you can, consider installing a small wooden gazebo to provide shelter from the elements, as well as a place to relax – a large evergreen tree could work too. The more options you can offer to prevent them getting wet and cold, the more likely they are to stay outside for longer.
3. Is there plenty to do?
Why: Whilst some people are happy to sit and admire their garden, others (especially those who used to be very keen gardeners) will want to keep busy, and could become very frustrated and agitated if they discover everything’s been done for them!
– Weeding and planting are great activities, as they provide a sense of purpose and satisfaction. If they struggle to bend over or kneel, raised flower beds are a good idea. If they’re physically fit enough, consider other activities such as raking up leaves, digging and mowing the lawn. Don’t forget that gardens also provide a space for games of boules, dancing, chess, painting or crafts.
4. Is there a pathway to stroll around?
Many people with dementia enjoy to walk ‘with purpose’ but can become frustrated and confused if they keep losing their way. Creating a simple path that winds around the garden is a great way to help them enjoy their walk without getting stressed.
– If the garden path is in the shape of a loop, they can simply follow it round and end up where they started. A path can be created using flowerbeds, freestanding plant pots and trellis archways.
– Make sure there is enough support along the way for them to stay safe and rest if they want to. For example, place a garden bench near the pathway so they can sit down, and make sure steps are safe and have rails if necessary.
5. Does it stimulate the senses?
Gardens which appeal to all five senses can be hugely enjoyable and stimulating. Visual appeal of favourite plants and flowers is pretty obvious, but consider smells, sounds, touch and taste too.
– Smell: Plant flower and plants with distinctive scents such as roses, lavender or mint. Scent can be a very powerful tool for reminiscence therapy and may trigger some very happy memories.
– Touch: Flowers and plants that have fuzzy or textured leaves can be satisfying to touch or stroke, but watch out for those with spines or thorns.
– Sound: Listening to a wind chime, or plants and grasses moving in the breeze, can be very calming. Consider planting nectar producing plants to encourage birds into your garden and install a bird bath too.
– Taste: Edible plants that are easy to grow in the garden can be very satisfying and a great sensory experience.
Go for soft fruits such as strawberries and blackberries or herbs that can be picked and served for dinner. Remember to only plant shrubs and flowers that are safe to eat (even if they’re not designed to be eaten) just in case the person your caring for gets mixed up.