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Gardening reaps benefits and pleasure for people with dementia

gardeners-alzheimerThe long weekend is an important date in the calendar of any gardener. People who work in gardening centres see the crowds stream in to search for old favourites or something different as the weather becomes 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 their favourite plants throughout the garden will help stimulate the senses and 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 or her to complete a task himself
Provide verbal cues. For example, ask if they can dig small holes for the plants
Provide visual cues, like presenting 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

– story from The Alzheimer Society of Canada.

For more information on local services and  programs, contact the Alzheimer Society of Prince Edward County, 90 King St., Picton, ON. Telephone 613 476 2085

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