4 Great Gardening Benefits for People with Alzheimer’s

4 Great Gardening Benefits for People with Alzheimer’s

Gardening is known for having a number of therapeutic and physical benefits. In this article, we touch on how such benefits could apply for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Gardening Benefits Dementia Alzheimer's

Gardening Reduces Stress

Past studies point to gardening as a great way to reduce stress. A study conducted by researchers in the Netherlands found that gardening did a better job of relieving a participant’s stress compared to other leisure activities [1]. As part of the study, they had two groups participate in a specific task. One group was requested to do some gardening, while the other was requested to read a book. While both activities led to a decrease in cortisol (stress hormone), researchers found that the decrease was a lot stronger in the gardening group.

Stress isn’t something that’s only felt by the individual with Alzheimer’s. The caregiver may also experience a high level of stress as it can be overwhelming to take care of loved ones with Alzheimer’s. Fortunately, gardening is an activity where both can take part and benefit from. To take it a step further, consider incorporating some Zen principles to the garden. For example, an element of serenity could be incorporated to the garden by adding a small stream of water or by adding pleasant scents such as lavender.

Gardening Improves Communication

A study by Japanese researchers found that patients with Alzheimer’s showed improvements in communication and cognitive abilities after they participated in horticultural activities over a three-month period [2]. According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, horticultural therapy is defined as a practice that’ll assist participants with improving memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization. This is achieved by having the participant engage with gardening or other plant-based activities.

Safe and Secure Environment

Outdoor-based activities could pose a hazard for people with Alzheimer’s because their impaired judgment may cause them to wander and get lost. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in ten people with dementia will wander. With gardening, the issue of having the individuals wander can be reduced by either having them engage in indoor gardening or by having them do outdoor gardening in an enclosed area. As we’ll explain further down the article, there are steps you can to make a garden a safer place for individuals with Alzheimer’s.

Gardening Fosters Independence

Gardening could help foster a feeling of independence for people with Alzheimer’s. One study that highlights this is an observational study conducted at an Alzheimer’s healing garden. Researchers observed residents, family members, and staff members attend the garden over a six-day period. During this period, they noticed that a notable percentage of residents were either making trips out to the garden alone or were spending time in the garden without being accompanied by anyone else [3]. While a large part of this success was due to the garden design being catered for people with Alzheimer’s, the results were still encouraging and highlights the importance of incorporating environmental elements to people’s lifestyle.

If you are interested in starting your own garden, here are some things to consider during the planning process to make the garden a safe environment for people with Alzheimer’s.

Gardening Tips for Dementia Alzheimers

Gardening Tools and Devices

Gardening requires a number of tools like shovels, cultivators, seed spreaders, and wheelbarrows. Some of these tools can be sharp and dangerous. Make sure such tools are not accessible to the individuals with Alzheimer’s when a caregiver is not present.

Gardening Accessibility

Accessibility should be one of the main factors to consider when you design a garden. For example, physical issues like mobility arise for older adults. To account for this, you may want to build an elevated garden bed (also known as raised garden beds) or may even one to start off with container gardening. You may also want to place a few stools or chairs around the garden so that there are resting places for people who attend to the garden.

Types of Plant

Do not grow plants that are poisonous when ingested or plants that may cause some sort of injury. For examples, roses are a popular choice for flower gardens and are great to look at but the thorns that form on the stem of the rose could be dangerous for your loved ones. You may also want the individual with Alzheimer’s participate in the planning process and ask if there are any plants in particular that may bring good memories or thought.

Timing of Activity

Avoid the hottest time of the day by gardening early in the morning. Doing so could also promote better sleep. Early morning gardening could also provide great stimulation for the rest of the day.

Avoid Dead Ends
An eight looped path is a common feature of gardens designed for Alzheimer’s patients. The purpose of an eight looped path is to ensure there are no dead ends for the individuals to get confused by when they walk through the garden.

Sources
[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20522508
[2] http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-0-387-75424-6_46
[3] http://www.healinglandscapes.org/pdf-library/Zeisel%20Treatment%20Effects.pdf