Can Gardening Be Beneficial for Persons with Dementia?

Caring for loved ones with dementia is undoubtedly one of the hardest challenges we can face. There is no reason, however, why we can’t continue to enjoy leisure activities like gardening with our loved ones that can help them boost their moods and even improve therapeutic outcomes.

by L.H.

Dementia is one of the hardest diseases to live with. Caregivers, who face the prospect of caring for loved ones with declining cognitive functions, can also find it difficult to adapt to their loved one’s changing condition and needs. As difficult as the journey may be, it doesn’t mean we cannot continue enjoying leisure activities with our loved ones. When it comes to dementia care, effective and holistic approaches to improve our loved one’s quality of life will always be top of mind for caregivers.

Gardening can be a powerful activity to start building such an approach to dementia care. Not only does it offer physical and emotional benefits for those with dementia, it can be a soothing and fruitful avenue for us to spend quality time with our loved ones. This guide will help you understand the different benefits that gardening can bring for persons with dementia and provide some easy tips for creating a dementia-friendly garden in your very own home.

Benefits of gardening for persons with dementia

Not only is gardening one of the easiest hobbies to pick up, but it also provides a range of benefits that make it a worthwhile investment.

Physical benefits of gardening

1. Enhances motor skills and mobility

Engaging in gardening activities requires a range of movements such as digging, planting, and weeding. These activities stimulate fine and gross motor skills, promoting flexibility and strength. For dementia patients, these exercises can contribute to maintaining or improving overall mobility.

2. Encourages physical exercise

Gardening is a gentle form of exercise that encourages movement and helps maintain a healthy level of physical activity. This low-impact exercise can improve cardiovascular health, regulate blood pressure, and contribute to overall well-being. 

3. Promotes vitamin D absorption

Outdoor gardening, in particular, allows us to spend time basking in natural sunlight and helps our bodies absorb vitamin D. This essential vitamin is crucial for bone health and has been linked to cognitive function.

Emotional and mental benefits of gardening

1. Alleviates stress and anxiety

Gardening provides a serene and peaceful environment, offering a therapeutic escape from the stressors of daily life. Gardening activities help reduce cortisol levels, promoting relaxation and a sense of calm.

2. Enhances mood and emotional well-being

Did you know that gardening has been linked to increased serotonin levels, often known as the “happy hormone”? This neurotransmitter plays a vital role in mood regulation, contributing to a positive emotional state and reducing feelings of depression.

Additionally, the slow pace of gardening can help to reduce agitation and restlessness, which are often associated with dementia. The rhythmic and repetitive nature of gardening tasks provides a calming effect as well. 

3. Provides a sense of purpose

Source: Unsplash

Having a garden to tend to gives individuals, including those with dementia, a sense of purpose and accomplishment. The daily or weekly routine of caring for plants establishes a structured and meaningful activity. Knowing that they’ll have something to look forward to every morning, from watering their garden to weeding their plants, can be a good source of motivation and meaning for them!

4. Engages the five senses

Gardening engages multiple senses, providing a rich sensory experience. Feeling soil in your hands, seeing vibrant colourful flowers, and smelling fragrant herbs stimulates the senses, and allows persons with dementia to create a connection to the environment and remain healthily engaged with their surroundings.

5. Cognitive stimulation

Simple gardening tasks involve cognitive processes such as planning, problem-solving, and sequencing. These activities stimulate the brain, promoting cognitive function and potentially slowing down cognitive decline for persons with dementia.

Creating a dementia-friendly garden at home

Setting up a dementia-friendly garden at home requires careful consideration of the unique needs and challenges faced by persons with dementia. 

Here are some easy tips for you to create a dementia-friendly garden at home:

1. Make sure that the garden is accessible

Whether it’s a corner of the home or an outdoor area, it is important to create easily accessible pathways that are wide and well-defined when planning the garden. Consider installing raised beds or container gardens to minimize the need for bending or kneeling, making it more convenient for individuals with mobility challenges. This will help our loved ones with dementia navigate and have easy access to all parts of the garden.

2. Provide enough shade

Incorporate comfortable seating areas with shade to allow individuals to rest and enjoy the garden, especially with Singapore’s year-round sunny weather. These spaces can serve as retreats for quiet reflection or social interaction with friends and family.

Offering such spaces is key to making your garden comfortable for the social interaction your loved one may be in the mood for. 

3. Create opportunities to reminisce

Does your loved one have a favourite plant or flower that they associate with a memory that they have? Designate specific areas within the garden for memory stimulation. You can include familiar objects, photographs, or personal memorabilia that hold sentimental value and invoke pleasant memories. Doing so will help encourage our loved ones to reminisce and remain connected to past experiences.

4. Keep the environment safe

Prioritize safety by removing any potential hazards, such as sharp tools or toxic plants. If possible, it is advisable to install secure handrails and non-slip surfaces to prevent accidents and ensure a safe and secure environment.

More tips to get you started on your dementia-friendly garden

Starting a garden may sound daunting at first, but with enough ideas, you will find it easy enough to start creating your own treasured space for your loved ones.

Here are a few more tips to kickstart your gardening journey:

1. Introduce therapeutic plants

You can consider incorporating plants known for their therapeutic properties. Aloe vera, for instance, is not only visually appealing but also offers soothing gel for minor skin irritations. Lavender and chamomile are also known for their calming effects, are non-toxic, and can be easily sourced.

2. Make use of  gardening techniques

Try exploring companion planting, a gardening technique where plants with mutually beneficial properties are grown together. For example, planting basil near tomatoes can enhance the tomatoes’ flavour while repelling certain pests.

3. Keep routines fresh with a gardening calendar

Establish a gardening calendar that outlines seasonal tasks and planting schedules. This provides structure and routine, making it easier for individuals with dementia to engage consistently in gardening activities.

4. Invite friends and loved ones to join in

Gardening can be an immensely social activity. Encourage family members, friends, or neighbours to join in and foster a sense of community and shared experiences with our loved ones.

It’s never easy as caregivers to care for a loved one with dementia. We hope this gardening guide will be useful in helping you care and bond with your loved ones through gardening. If you require any other advice or assistance about caring for your loved one with dementia, feel free to reach out to our friendly Homage Care Pros at 6100 0055. 

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About the Writer
L.H. is a writer who guzzles coffee a little too much for his own good.
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