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10 Jul 2019

Five Benefits Of Gardening For People With Dementia

Five Benefits Of Gardening For People With Dementia

5 benefits of gardening for persons living with dementia

Living with dementia can be hard, but there are plenty of activities that those with this condition can do to maintain both physical and cognitive function, while feeling stimulated and valued. Here, Nicky Roeber, the Online Horticultural Expert at Wyevale Garden Centres discusses the benefits gardening can offer for people with dementia.

Dementia is a long-term condition that can have a disruptive impact to a person's health and wellbeing, as well as affecting family life and other personal circumstances. The condition can interfere with everything from memory to communication and other skills needed to ensure a comfortable life. For many, this means they don't get to do the things they love anymore, but with gardening found to improve quality of life in many aspects including pain reduction and lowered stress levels, there are certainly benefits to horticultural therapy (Psychiatry Investigation).

Here, I will be discussing the main benefits of gardening for people with dementia.

It encourages sensory stimulation
A deterioration in eyesight and hearing is common as we grow older, but for those with dementia the condition can affect all five of their senses. For example, the brain regions that are responsible for scent are some of the first to be affected and so those with dementia tend to have difficulties recognising certain odours. Similarly, touch sensitivity decreases and depending on the extent of this, it can be difficult for patients with dementia to feel pain or the difference between hot and cold.

Gardening can awaken some of these senses, giving people with dementia the opportunity to get outside in the fresh air and experience the joy of nature. Many therapeutic gardens which specialise in helping people deal with this degenerative disease tend to have spaces where patients can grow their own fruit, vegetables and herbs. As well as using their vision and sense of touch to get hands on and plant these, they will also be able to enjoy the fruits of their labour. And, as a loss of appetite is common in those with dementia, it could even have the additional benefit of piquing their interest in food again.

It can improve attention span
When you're caring for someone with dementia, you're bound to see a number of changes with their cognitive abilities, including worsened memory. However, it's common for these patients to suffer from a decreased attention span, too (Dementia.org). Giving them a job to do in the garden can streamline their focus and allow for better concentration.

It's worth remembering that an overload of tasks or options can actually set people with dementia back, so designating them one task at a time may be best (Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine). Whether this means letting them get their hands dirty and planting new blooms in planters, or picking and harvesting fruit and vegetables, it's likely that you will see an increase in their attention span. This can then be transferred to other tasks they may struggle to carry out in daily life, such as sitting down to eat or reading a book.

It increases strength and balance
Gardening is a physical activity that can help to improve strength, flexibility and balance, which are important for those with dementia who may be experiencing sensory impairment and a loss of muscle tone as they age.
All gardening activities involve using the hands, so getting people with dementia out in the garden can particularly improve hand strength. Try giving them the task of digging and preparing the soil for flowers or trimming plants and shrubs to help refine their fine motor skills.
It's important to note that the best activities for those with dementia will be dependent on their own physical abilities and the severity of their condition, but it's typically best to stick with very low intensity activities like potting and planting rather than raking.

It provides a sense of purpose
A reduction in the quality of life that's driven by dementia means that for a lot of people, the condition goes hand in hand with mental health complications, primarily depression. This is assumedly because the symptoms associated with the condition can cause loneliness, frustrations and low mood that take away the patient's sense of purpose.
Gardening can restore their confidence by giving them a responsibility and letting them take charge. Whether that means delegating the daily watering of plants to them or allowing them to choose and grow their own fruit and vegetables, they are sure to feel a sense of encouragement, accomplishment and purpose from these horticultural activities.

It gives social benefits
As previously mentioned, dementia can be a lonely experience at times, but gardening can help solve this — especially if they will be attending a therapeutic garden where many other people with the condition will be.
Engaging with others in a meaningful environment is likely to spur conversations between patients and will give them the opportunity to meet likeminded individuals, while developing new knowledge and skills.

Gardening is more than just making your outdoor space look pretty: it can be used as a therapy for those going through significant physical and cognitive changes. So, give them an opportunity to improve their quality of life by letting them get hands-on in the garden.

 

*This is a guest post contributed on behalf of Wyevale Garden Centre.*

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