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Experts Reveal Simple Gardening Hacks that Can Help with Dementia

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In light of dementia awareness week, Taking Care Personal Alarms has teamed up with leading gardening experts to highlight how simple gardening tasks can alleviate symptoms of the disease that currently affects more than 944,000 people in the UK.

A dementia diagnosis can be devastating for both the individual and their family, and many carers struggle to know how to maintain the cognitive stimulation of the dementia sufferer while also ensuring their safety. This challenge is common for millions of families across the UK, and it can feel overwhelming to keep their brains engaged.

However, an expert at Taking Care Personal Alarms has revealed that gardening is one of the most beneficial hobbies for people suffering from dementia. Elderly Care Expert Lauren Frake has teamed up with a number of gardening experts to raise awareness of why gardening is effective for dementia patients, as well as simple activities, plants, and installments that can help to reintroduce gardening activities safely and seamlessly into dementia sufferer’s lives.

“We understand how challenging it can be to care for someone who is suffering from dementia, and the strain of finding suitable activities or hobbies for them,” says Lauren Frake, an elderly care expert at Taking Care Personal Alarms.

She added: “Maintaining physical and cognitive functions is important to keep the brain stimulated, and many of our alarm users report that gardening is a great place to start. With its constant engagement and sensory stimulation, it can provide a welcome distraction and therapeutic benefits for individuals with dementia.”

Lauren continues with some of the key first steps that you can take to help reintroduce your loved ones to gardening so they don’t feel overwhelmed and confused.

1. Reintroduce the person to their garden and spend time exploring the environment

When reintroducing gardening to someone with dementia, one of the first steps is to ensure they feel safe in their environment. A good first step is to walk them around their garden, let them feel and touch the plants – especially ones with bright colours and textures. This will help distract them and enable them to focus on what they are doing in that moment. 

It is also good to provide some clear guidance around the garden tasks they can get involved in, breaking these steps down into manageable bite-size chunks so they don’t feel overwhelmed.

However, as much as gardening is a great social activity and may provide some guidance at first, we recommend encouraging them to take ownership of some of the gardening so they feel a sense of independence and individual achievement. Just keep an eye on them to make sure they are safe and within reach if they need you.

2. Explore sensory gardens

“One of the ways to view dementia is like shaking a full bookshelf, with your earliest memories at the bottom and your most recent memories at the top,”  says Nick White, nature recovery ranger for Centre of Sustainable hHealthcare.

He continues: “When you shake the bookcase, the first books to fall are the ones at the top, representing your most recent memories, while those at the bottom, your core childhood and embedded memories, fall last.”

“For many people, being amongst nature and gardening is part of their core childhood memories, which is why gardening and being outdoors can be so beneficial and bring so much comfort to those suffering with dementia.

Nick highlights that his experience designing garden activates for people with dementia has revealed that sensory gardens and different types of plants can also help people with dementia. “We often design sensory gardens brimming with plants that have calming colours, textures, and scents. The combination of these different types of sensory plants can often trigger the recollection of distant memories.”

3. Simple tasks can still be very rewarding

Rebecca Van Den Boogaard, vocational horticulture learning tutor at Workbridge and St Andrew’s Healthcare, a complex mental health charity, said: “Many gardening activities can still be enjoyed by people who have dementia, especially in the earlier stages of the disease. As a rule of thumb, spikey or toxic plants should be avoided, and the key is to keep it simple.”

Activities and plants that I would recommend are mowing, growing fruit, vegetables, annuals, and herbs. Feeding the birds is also rewarding.

Peas are easy to sow and a quick crop, (and delicious eaten straight from the vine), as are lettuces, perpetual spinach, and radishes. Sensory plants with strong scents and even flavours are excellent. I recommend stocks, lavender, calendula, nasturtium, Mint, oregano, thyme, fennel, sweet peas, and common jasmine.

4. Explore seasonal plants to remind them about the time of year

Dr Susanne Lux, Project Manager for Pelargonium Europe, said:  “Flowers and plants are well-known mood enhancers and sitting or walking in a beautiful, blooming garden can have a positive effect on our emotional wellbeing and mental health. 

“For a person suffering with dementia-related memory loss, different varieties of plants may help to remind them of the time of year, such as daffodils at the start of spring or sun-loving plants like geraniums, which herald the onset of summer. The olfactory sense is very evocative, and it may be possible for intensely perfumed flowering plants to trigger happy memories whilst also having a soothing effect.”

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