Dementia affects hundreds of thousands of people every year, causing their brain to slowly decline. Staying active and healthy can help to slow down the spread of dementia and improve the quality of life for those with the condition. In this article, Nicky Roeber, Online Horticultural Expert at Wyevale Garden Centres, explains how you can create a dementia-friendly garden to help your loved one enjoy the outdoors safely.
Dementia is one of the biggest causes of disability in later life, with 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 suffering from the condition, and one person developing it every three minutes (Alzheimer’s Society). While there’s currently no cure, activities such as gardening can help to improve the well-being of someone with dementia.
The therapeutic and health benefits of nature are well understood, and by creating a safe outdoor space for your loved one, you can help to stimulate their senses and keep their brain active. Below you will find my advice on how you can do just that.
Think about the user
The first step to designing a dementia-friendly garden is to come up with a plan, and this needs to consider the user at each step. A good way to ensure the garden meets your loved one’s needs is to get them involved in the design process and incorporate elements that they will enjoy, whether that is certain plants, features, or animals.
As the designer, it’s important to consider the issues your loved one might face and try to minimise or eliminate them ahead of time. This means using surfaces that are non-slip, installing hand railings, using gentle ramps instead of steps, avoiding poisonous or sharp plants, and removing potential trip hazards.
Make it secure but natural
When designing a garden for someone with dementia, it’s important to take into consideration their mental state, and how this may change. For this reason, it’s wise to ensure that the garden is fully enclosed to stop them wandering off and ensure their safety. All boundaries and gates should be secured with locks, but they can be covered with garden elements such as shrubs and bushes to make them look more natural and less intimidating.
The layout should be simple and easy to understand, with paths that loop back on themselves to prevent getting lost. The paths also need to accommodate your loved one, so if they have trouble walking or require a wheelchair, consider creating wider paths and include plenty of areas to sit down and rest. It can also be a great idea to incorporate signs pointing to different elements of the garden so they can easily find their way around.
Gardens are already enjoyable on their own, but you can also fill them with plenty of stimulating activities and features to keep your loved one engaged. This can be based around their personal likes and dislikes. For example, if they’re a bit of a green thumb, planting a vegetable patch will allow your loved one to grow and care for their own produce. Equally, if they enjoy watching birds and other animals, think about how you can attract them to the garden.
Another thing to think about is stimulating the five senses. Water features and wind chimes can help bring the garden to life, while incorporating great scented plants such as thyme or lavender provide stimulation for their sense of smell. Make sure to add in lots of beautiful bright colours in the form of flowers and plants and you’ve got your own sensory garden.
Watching animals can bring many benefits to people with all sorts of different conditions (Care UK), so bringing the garden to life by making it the perfect place for animals to gather is a great thing to do. Listening to birds can be incredibly relaxing, and making use of bird baths and feeders to attract them to the garden is a lovely way to draw them in.
Feeders can also be used to attract squirrels, while a mix of flowers such as lilacs and wisteria will bring the buzz of bees and butterflies. You could even leave an area of the garden as ‘wild’, making it a more natural habitat for all animals, giving you the chance to bring in hedgehogs.
Gardens are immensely enjoyable and can improve the quality of life for the elderly and those with dementia. Follow the tips in this guide and you’ll be able to create a space that your loved ones want to be in.