All care home staff are going to find the following article invaluable this summer. Written by Nicky Roeber, Online Horticultural Expert at Wyevale Garden Centres, he gives his specialist advice for designing a dementia-friendly garden.
Gardening can be incredibly helpful for those with dementia. Not only will it give them a sense of purpose, but it’ll also keep the mind and body active. As the seasons change and plants grow, there’ll always be something to do, so it can really help to create a routine. And, if you choose the right plants, you can also help to stimulate the senses and calm the mind.
Planting a garden for those with dementia is a little trickier than normal, as you’ll need to ensure that they’ll always be safe and accommodations can be made. To make the process easier, I’ll be giving you my expert gardening advice for planning an outdoor space for someone living with dementia.
Keep it as safe as possible
To ensure that your loved one is safe, you should plan the space to keep potential hazards at bay. Try to keep walls and obstacles to a minimum to reduce the chances of tripping. Instead, you can create beautiful borders using small plants or pebbles.
When it comes to flooring, contrasting colours can give the impression that there are steps, which can be confusing and unsafe for those with dementia. Try to keep flooring all one colour to make the garden easier to navigate.
You should also avoid surfaces that can become slippery, especially in wet weather. Paths and patios should be installed with a small incline to allow water to run off into flower beds. As an alternative to stone or wooden decking, which can cause a potential hazard in the rain, you can get some great non-slip surfaces made from rubber. These are a lot safer and can provide a softer landing if your loved one does fall. To help with stability, you could install handrails around garden paths as an extra precaution.
You’ll also want to make sure that every part of the space is visible so you can check that your loved one is safe. Try to keep tall plants, shrubs, and trees around the perimeters of the garden so they don’t obstruct your view. You should also try to make fences high so that they cannot be climbed. You can cover these with climbing plants like ivy or wisteria to keep them looking bright and beautiful.
For those living with dementia, certain garden activities can be a little bit more challenging, so accommodations will need to be made to make things easier. Try keeping flowerbeds raised from the ground so you loved ones don’t need to bend down to weed their beautiful blooms. Placing pots on shelves and racks is another great way to keep plants up off the ground and make gardening more accessible.
It’s also a good idea to avoid steps, as these can be difficult to navigate and are especially inaccessible for wheelchair users. Try to keep the garden as flat as possible but, if you want to include different levels to make it more interesting, you can give access to them using ramps with a gentle incline.
It's also a good idea to put up signs that guide your loved ones around the garden. This way, they’ll always know exactly where they are and how to get to where they want to go.
Choose the right plants
Of course, no garden is complete without an abundance of flowers and foliage. For a dementia-friendly space, pick plants that are easy to look after and that appeal to the senses, but also attract lots of wildlife to the garden. Local animals and insects can help to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, which are especially common in those living with dementia. As an extra precaution, stay away from plants that could be harmful if ingested. Below you’ll find a list of some great dementia-friendly plants, as well as their benefits.
- Lavender: These are great for those with dementia because of their strong yet relaxing scent. They’re also great for attracting bees, whose gentle buzzing can add an extra sensory element to the garden.
- Rosemary and thyme: These aromatic herbs are great for carrying a subtle yet calming scent across the garden. They’re also completely edible!
- Fruit trees: Trees are great for attracting birds and other wildlife into gardens, and fruit trees carry an added bonus of growing tasty treats. If you choose a flowering cherry tree, you’ll be greeted with a beautiful confetti-like shower of petals in the spring. Just make sure you plant trees towards the edge of the garden, so they don’t obstruct your view.
- Lamb's ear: These have soft, soothing leaves that are covered in small hairs. They can be great for adding a more tactile element to the garden.
- Greater quaking grass: These provide a gentle rustling sound when the wind blows. Because they can grow quite tall, plant them around the perimeter of the garden so they don’t obstruct your view.
Gardens can be incredibly helpful to boost happiness and wellness in those living with dementia. By following these few tips to make sure the garden is safe and accommodating, and by picking plants that encourage sensory interest, you can make any space dementia-friendly.
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