April 15, 2022
Being involved in gardening can have an incredibly positive impact on the health and well-being of many people, but it can be especially effective for individuals who are living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. As we celebrate Earth month, there are many ways to explore gardening as a positive, person-centered therapy.
Gardening is a wonderful way to maintain physical activity. The more mobile a person with dementia remains, the better it will be for their health and overall feeling of well-being. Gardening adds the additional benefit of fresh air, sunshine, and may even help stimulate the appetite!
Gardening can be a preserved memory. For many older adults gardening was an important part of life in their childhood. While short term memories fade as dementia progresses, long term memories, those things we experienced earlier in life, can be preserved far into the disease process. When we create an environment where someone with dementia can connect with long term memories, we help them to feel a sense of security and peace.
Gardening can be a great addition to the routine of someone living with dementia. A person-centered, daily routine is essential for individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Gardening can be a wonderful piece of someone’s routine: the daily watering of plants, tending to weeds, and watching the growth of plants and flowers. These can be a meaningful and unique addition to the day.
Gardening is a fantastic way to engage the senses. As time goes on, individuals living with dementia tend to experience the world around them through their senses. Gardening stimulates all five of the senses in a great way!
Gardening can create a vital sense of purpose. Purpose is SO important to well-being for every person, and it is especially necessary for individuals living with dementia. Gardening can be a way to restore the confidence of the individual by giving them a task that is familiar, providing an opportunity to take pride in what they do, to feel a sense of accomplishment, and contribute to the community around them in a meaningful way.
Ways to engage someone with dementia in gardening:
Planning – Design the garden together. Let the individual choose their favorite plants, flowers, and where they would like to plant each one. Consider a trip to the store together or look at photos of plants and flowers to help decide.
Preparing – To whatever degree the person is able, include them in preparing the garden bed for planting. Weeding, removing rocks or debris, and spreading soil are all ways to prepare. Clean any pots or trays you plan to use for planting seeds.
Planting – Planting seeds can be done both indoors AND out! Sow seeds in pots or trays and find a sunny space indoors for them to grow. As seedlings get strong enough, engage the individual in transplanting outdoors in the garden bed. If kneeling is not possible for the individual, be their “hands” and place plants as they direct you. Raised garden beds are a wonderful option for older adults as well.
Maintenance – This is the on-going fun part of a gardening routine. Weeding and watering are success-oriented daily tasks. And watching plants grow is a really satisfying feeling.
Harvesting – This is the time to celebrate! Picking flowers, fruits, and vegetables is very gratifying and can be a great opportunity for reminiscing and sharing experiences.
Using the produce – Use vegetables or herbs in cooking. Make homemade jam and salsa or share your produce with neighbors and friends.
Keep it safe. Ensure the walkway is well lit, level, and free of hoses and any other trip hazards.
Keep it simple. Think of “can do” tasks that are success oriented – watering, etc. Guide through any complex tasks one step at a time.
Keep it fun. Don’t expect perfection. The goal is not a perfectly manicured garden, the goal is that the individual feels a sense of well-being and connection.Be generous with your praise of the individual’s efforts and thank them for helping.
At Arrow Senior Living, St. Charles, MO, it is often said that people living with dementia may not always remember who we are, but they will remember how we made them feel. Gardening is a wonderful way to create feelings of purpose, connection, acceptance, joy, and belonging. Those are great feelings for us all!
Saint Charles, Missouri-based Arrow Senior Living manages a collection of communities that offer varying levels of care including independent living, assisted living, and memory care. Each and every senior living community supports residents by focusing on dignity, respect, and quality of life. The programs and amenities offered are selected to provide only the highest standard of quality and comfort.
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