Finding out a loved one has memory loss is never easy, but once you accept the diagnosis, you might want to find ways to help them. One easy option that could benefit people in memory care is gardening. This seemingly simple activity can have lots of positive effects on people dealing with dementia. Find out more about the benefits and read tips for getting started.
Whether or not your loved one gardened before their dementia diagnosis, it can be a beneficial activity to try now. Here are some benefits of gardening for people with memory loss.
When you work in the garden, you enjoy a sensory experience. It engages all the senses, from touching the soil and plants to smelling different flowers and herbs. Outdoor gardening also lets you feel the sunshine on your skin and breathe in fresh air. Dementia can cause a decline in the senses, including decreased vision, hearing, smell and sensations. By stimulating those senses with gardening, it could help slow the loss.
Working in a garden can help people with dementia feel calmer. This can be beneficial if your loved one is prone to agitation or aggression. Nature is soothing, and gardening helps you feel connected to your environment and what's going on around you, which can add to the calming effect.
Outdoor gardening exposes you to the sun, which boosts the body's vitamin D production. Vitamin D has lots of health benefits, but it also plays an important role in mental health. Having a vitamin D deficiency can cause anxiety, sadness, hopelessness and other negative emotions. Spending time outdoors in the garden can help maintain normal levels of vitamin D. Plus, gardening is fun for many people, which makes them feel happier.
Gardening requires you to plan, follow certain steps and solve problems. Engaging cognitive functioning can be beneficial for people with dementia. Gardening might also stimulate the memory, especially if gardening was a big part of the person's life before dementia. They might remember gardening with their kids or parents when they were younger.
Some people resist moving to memory care. They might feel they don't have control over their lives or their freedom is being taken away. A dementia diagnosis also takes away a lot of activities and options for people who can no longer do certain things. Gardening in memory care is an activity that people with dementia can do successfully and can give residents a sense of purpose. They can choose to engage in gardening as a hobby, and they have an ongoing responsibility to keep the plants thriving.
Community gardens or gardening clubs give people in memory care opportunities for socialization. Having dementia can feel isolating, so any socialization opportunities that your loved one has can help them feel less alone. They can interact with others who also enjoy gardening, and it can give them a sense of belonging when they're actively participating in gardening with other people. It can also become a topic of conversation with caregivers or fellow memory care residents, even when they aren't gardening.
Gardening might not seem like exercise, and it's not the most strenuous option, but it keeps people with dementia active in an engaging way. Things like watering plants, weeding and digging in the garden can support physical improvements. Gardening can promote balance, strength, fine motor skills and coordination to help older adults with dementia maintain more of their mobility.
Loved ones with dementia will likely need lots of support when gardening. Balance safety with letting them have independence to get the maximum benefits. Here are some tips for gardening with loved ones who have dementia.
Create a safe environment for gardening, such as a planting area with a fence. Avoid fertilizers and chemicals that your loved one could come into contact with. Choose gardening tools that are safe and easy for your loved one to hold.
An easy way to start gardening is by using a community garden. Your loved one can share in the workload at times that work well for them. This can be convenient if your loved one lives in memory care. You might take them on an outing to a community garden occasionally for an easily accessible gardening experience.
Choosing the plants carefully can help enhance the sensory part of gardening. Plants that have vivid colors or different textures engage the senses. You might incorporate herbs into your garden because they typically have strong scents. Herbs are also a great choice for container gardening in an assisted living apartment.
Avoid any plants that can be toxic to humans to prevent accidental ingestion. Things like cacti and rose bushes with thorns can cause injury if your loved one doesn't understand how to handle them properly. Even some vegetable plants can be potentially dangerous. For example, a hot pepper plant could cause pain if your loved one eats a pepper or gets some of the oil from a pepper on their hands and rubs it on their skin or in their eyes.
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