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Gardening with dementia could help hearts and plants bloom anew.

As our population ages, dementia remains the most feared illness for over 55s and in 2012, the Department of Health launched an unprecedented plan to improve dementia care and research. Our director Mike Smith received personal thanks from Jeremy Hunt for his advice and support in establishing ‘The Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia’, but for us at Trinity Homecare, our true reward is knowing that there are now over 1 million ‘dementia friends’ and the spend on research has doubled to over £60 million to improve provisions for specialist dementia care. Given that recent research has suggested that gardens can specifically improve the wellbeing of people living with dementia in various ways, government funding has supported NHS projects with £500,000 worth of grants for garden improvement projects.

Sometimes referred to as ‘horticultural therapy’, gardening has many benefits for people living with dementia:

  • Keep the body active without strenuous or harmful activity
  • Supports fitness levels
  • Increases appetite
  • Helps to regulate sleep patterns
  • Boosts mood and mental wellbeing
  • Reduces stress
  • Focuses the mind with responsibility and a sense of purpose
  • Nurturing and caring appeals to human instincts
  • Social activity which boosts interaction through shared experiences
  • Loved ones of all ages and abilities can join in – spending quality time with one another with no strain or stress
  • The colours and smells stimulate the senses and help to keep the mind active even in advanced stages of dementia.

Elderly lady with glasses and hat

It’s important to remember that someone living with dementia may perceive the world differently, and creating a safe environment is absolutely vital:

  • Dead-ends and abrupt changes of direction can be disorientating. Place plants or coloured objects along paths to assist your loved one to navigate the garden safely.
  • Raised beds will help reduce the strain and fatigue on the body
  • Ensure that the ground is level and safe to navigate
  • Plastic containers and pots won’t break if they’re dropped, making them safer for everyone
  • Creating areas to rest is important – benches and tables will be gratefully received
  • Provide prompts by the back door to help your loved one remember to tend to their garden
  • Grow only non-toxic plants
  • When choosing which plants to grow – your loved one may be able to make requests or choose from a selection of pictures. Involving them as much as possible in the process will give them a sense of ownership.
  • Use plants with a variety of colours and smells which will help to stimulate their senses and keep the mind active even in advanced stages of dementia.

As the world around us changes every day, the peace and pride that can be discovered among our plants can help to secure our roots in our homes and our lives.

With every advancement in medical research, with every dementia friend, and every bulb planted, challenges are being overcome one by one. The government now aims to make the UK the world leader in dementia care and research by 2020, and given the success of the campaign so far, it seems we can look to the future with hope.