Gardening with Alzheimer’s disease
The Victoria Day long weekend is an important date in the calendar of any gardener. When I worked in a gardening centre, I saw the crowds stream in to search for old favourites or something different as the weather became warm enough to allow summer annuals to survive outside.
Just like everyone else, people with dementia who have enjoyed gardening throughout their lives will continue to enjoy the activity. Just like everyone else, they experience many benefits from it, including the physical benefits of exercise, the functional benefits of performing a task to memory and sensory stimulation from the space that is created.
The first way to get someone with dementia involved is also the easiest: bring him along when selecting the flowers. Having many of his favourite plants throughout the garden will help stimulate his senses and his memory. Consider also planting herbs alongside walkways to provide other sensory benefits.
But there are other important things to consider. Plant choices should depend on what kind of upkeep both of you are willing to put in and how far along someone is in the disease. For example, if she was always active in the garden, consider plants that need regular maintenance like geraniums. But if someone has mobility issues or is further along in the disease, consider planting perennials and low-maintenance annuals like impatiens.
Involving him in the actual gardening is an important part of this therapy. A lot depends on the state of the person with dementia, but there are some general rules to go by:
- When possible, allow him to complete a task himself
- Provide verbal cues. For example, ask if he can dig small holes for the plants
- Provide visual cues, like presenting her with a specific tool
- Provide hand-in-hand help when needed
- Make use of raised beds and potted plants so even people with limited mobility can plant
When creating your gardening space, it is important to think about safety and proper design for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Enclose the area to allow her to roam freely. Feeling unrestrained promotes independence and other benefits
- Design a circuit path with a continuous route for the walkway. It should be clear of obstacles. Handrails may also be a good idea
- Use adjustable umbrellas and shade-producing arches and arbours to control sunlight exposure
- Too much light or darker areas are not helpful for people with dementia
Do you have any experience gardening with someone with dementia? Share your experiences below.
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