Summer is almost here, so it’s time to get going in the garden and look forward to being outside more.
As a dementia professor, I know how important gardens are for people with dementia. They offer health benefits that can reduce the symptoms of the disease. But getting garden access and garden activities organised sometimes seems to require a big effort.
If you are supporting someone with dementia, you may not have much energy to spare, so here are five tips about gardens and dementia that might help. Not least, the person with dementia may have gardening skills and advice to give you, so keep them involved in every aspect you can.
People with Alzheimer’s disease or any form of dementia sometimes turn night into day. This is exhausting for everyone.
It is hard to care if you are exhausted yourself, and you may have a day job, or other people to look after. Getting the person with dementia to go out into the garden every morning can encourage them to sleep at night.
Natural body chemicals that are affected by morning light regulate our internal body clock. These chemicals are reduced in older people who have dementia.
If they go out in the garden, however, especially to bathe in the morning light, it can help a better natural sleep that night. The light helps them to be more awake in the day time. That might make nights easier for you.
Vitamin D is vital for the prevention of falls – and of fractures if you do fall over. A person with dementia may be older and frail, and sometimes mistake what they see. This could easily end up in putting a foot wrong.
No fancy diet or vitamin pills can match the boost from getting out in the garden and bathing your arms and legs in a little bit of morning or evening summer sun. And you can store up benefits for the winter days.
To make sure that people get fresh air, exercise and have something interesting to do, make the garden appealing. The dementia-friendly garden has many features. It needs things growing there all year round.
A food table can attract birds or little mammals like squirrels. I’ve had hours of fun knocking on my window to chase away the fat squirrels so that the little birds get their share. The squirrels always come back!
Be careful with the paving. It needs to allow people to shuffle or use a walking aid if needed. If you are choosing paving stones, avoid patterns that can be mistaken for steps and stairs. Add a washing line, some grass to cut, a patch to dig and some raised flower beds and it will be great.
A comfortable garden seat is a must. Moreover, if you can organise some shelter, it will increase the number of days that you can sit out. We often say, “There’s no such thing as bad weather – just the wrong clothes.” So, wrapping up and going out is better than languishing inside.
Try not to make the garden seem like a prison yard. Many people have had a fright when the person with dementia leaves and becomes lost.
Attractive fencing and discreet gates will make it less likely that the person will leave inappropriately without you noticing. If they are too obvious, they sometimes seem like an interesting challenge, and the person with dementia will devote a lot of attention to succeeding in getting out.
If you live in a flat, you might not have easy access to a garden. Modern design encourages architects to include balconies and roof terraces in the design of new buildings, as they used to in traditional ones.
Growing plants in tubs outside and pottering around with them allows the person with dementia to access valuable daylight, even if it is limited to a balcony.
People with dementia may become bored and listless, and having some plants to look after can give endless hours of contemplation and care. You may live near a public park, and a seat near a play area for children offers hours of distraction for older people.
Do you find that being in a garden is a soothing and rejuvenating experience? How do you like to spend your time in the garden, balcony or roof terrace? Please share your insights below.