Enjoying your garden when living with dementia
It is perfectly possible to continue to enjoy your garden whilst living with dementia. In fact gardens may become even more positive and more important as your journey progresses.
Gardens are great for people living with dementia because:
- They are a lovely change of scenery and escape from the other rigours of life
- There is significant evidence to suggest that they improve the health of people at all ages
- Additional exposure to sunlight provides increases vitamin D intake which helps keep bones healthy and protect against many diseases
- Additional daylight means beating depression and the blues, you will reduce stress, minimise anxiety and lower your blood pressure
- Gardening is great exercise and it provides opportunities for maintaining meaningful movement no matter what your abilities.
You will probably notice that each of these benefits will apply to everybody else and you would be right. Sometimes we get all worked up about what to do with somebody living with dementia when all we need to do is treat them like everybody else.
Keeping our garden safe
Having just said that we need to treat people living with dementia the same as everybody else, we need to remain mindful that we do so with certain additional caveats depending on where they are on their personal journey. So some of the following may not be relevant yet but may become more important later:
- Is there good fencing that provides a safe and secure place to roam; the whole point of the garden is to provide a safe space to feel like you are free. But you don’t want them to be at risk of harm.
- Is the garden gate secure, if seeing the gate would make your loved one anxious and try to escape you could make it less obvious using shrubs or screens.
- If people have never engaged in gardening before they may be happy to sit and relax, but if they used to be a keen gardener you will need to make sure there is plenty to do. In some cases the end result may not matter as long as they can occupy themselves. This could be potting, dead heading, sweeping or any other jobs they would have done when they were younger.
- We need some shelter, our garden heaven should not be limited to the 50 days of good weather we get each year.
- Is there a pathway to stroll around?
- Does it stimulate the senses?
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.
People who live with dementia often like to walk ‘with purpose’ but this can become confusing even in a small garden, a simple pathway that provides a clear route around the whole garden preferably in a continuous loop.
Make sure all of the garden features are available to see as they go round and dot in some of the activities along the way mentioned above. But be sure to give them a place to sit along the way in case they get tired. Also make sure the path is level and without any trip hazards.
Turn the back garden into a sensory experience
Sound: Bees, birds, insects as well as water features and wind chimes can make the world feel a better place. Some of these can be bought (such as bird feeders), others will need a bit more planning for example finding out which plants will attract bees.
Taste: be aware of poisonous plants as it can be difficult to know which plants are safe to eat and which are not, this is even more difficult when you are living with dementia. But make sure you have plenty of fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Gardens provide a rich opportunity to nourish all of the senses
We probably all recognise the opportunity with visual and smells but don’t underestimate touch, taste and sound as well. Talk to your experts in your local garden centre for more information but you may want to consider:
Smell: Not the obvious garden staples but ones with really distinctive smells such as roses, lavender or mint. Everyone loves the smell of cut grass, so don’t leave them inside whilst you are doing this job.
Touch: Spikes, thorns and bristles may not be on the cards but look at on Google or your local garden centre for flowers and plants that have interesting textures or feel to them.
If you want to know more about Greensleeves Care, why not visit your local Greensleeves Care home.