Summer weather is here, and many of us are trying to find ways to spend more time outdoors. Gardening is a great way to spend time in nature, and a great way to destress and relax. It’s also an amazing activity for older adults suffering from dementia.
For those living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, participating in familiar activities, like gardening, can provide a sense of comfort. Other benefits include improved sleep at night, less agitation, better nutritional habits, and prevention of behavioral challenges.
Here’s everything you need to know about starting a garden for someone living with dementia:
There are plenty of activities – both indoors and out – that can be appropriate for those living with dementia. So, what makes gardening so special?
Unlike cooking, or aerobics, or even puzzles, participating in gardening is possible at every stage of progression. Whether your loved one is in the earliest phases of dementia, or nearing the end, gardening can be suited to meet their needs.
- In the earliest stages, many dementia patients retain much of their functional capability and require minimal assistance with everyday tasks. If gardening is in their wheelhouse, it’s likely that they can continue with their routine – from planting, to weeding, to picking.
- Later, as your loved one enters the middle stage of dementia, they may need some assistance with daily tasks – and depression, anxiety, and irritability may enter the game. Gardening can be a great part of their care plan at this point. Not only does it help ease those uneasy feelings, but it can improve social interactions and provide sensory stimulation.
- Near the end, when dementia patients enter the final stage of dementia, they experience a great deterioration in their ability to care for themselves. Often, they spend much of the day sleeping. During waking hours, agitation and restlessness are constant companions. Still, they may be enjoy simply sitting in the garden (or even walking the paths, if they are able).
Designing a Garden for Dementia Patients
Whether your loved one would like to grow vegetables, or flowers, or just wants somewhere peaceful to sit, special considerations need to be taken. According to one study, in order for gardening therapy to be successful, it must be adapted to the population living with dementia.
What does that mean?
- Gardens should include familiar elements that remind your loved one of previous stages of their life
- Ensure that the garden is accessible – if your older adult is in a wheelchair, for instance, they will need wider pathways
- Gardens should have an enclosed perimeter to discourage accidental wandering
- All spaces should include safety features, such as non-slip pathways, to reduce fall risk
- Use trees or a table with an umbrella to provide shade
- Avoid growing toxic plants (especially those which may be mistaken for food!)
- DO grow “snackable” plants, such as berries, snap peas, and cherry tomatoes
No matter what stage of dementia your older loved one is in, spending time in the garden can help improve their quality of life. By implementing the tips above, you can help them stay mentally engaged and delay the progression of their disease.