How to create a dementia-friendly garden

‘Being in a garden helps a person with dementia to be oriented in time and space’

The Dementia: Understanding Together campaign has put together five tips for people to make their own gardens dementia friendly. Photograph: iStock

The Dementia: Understanding Together campaign has put together five tips for people to make their own gardens dementia friendly. Photograph: iStock

 

As garden designers put the finishing touches to their show gardens for this year’s Bloom in the Phoenix Park (May 31st-June 4th, 9am-6pm), there is one garden design team that is hoping their garden will wow visitors in a different way.

This particular garden is a dementia-friendly garden designed by the dementia training organisation, Sonas apc; the Trinity College Dublin Research Centre, TrinityHaus; and the landscape company, Newtown Saunders.

“Our garden incorporates the principles of a dementia-friendly garden developed by the Dementia: Understand Together campaign,” explains Sinead Grennan, chief executive of Sonas apc. So, it includes plants such as lavender that are nice to look at, feel and smell. It also includes flowers such as daisies that bring back childhood memories for many older people. And most importantly, it has areas of shelter and clearly marked pathways.

The Dementia: Understanding Together campaign has put together five tips for people to make their own gardens dementia friendly. The first tip is to ensure that your garden has a straightforward layout which is easy to get around. Paths and patios should be level, non-slip surfaces in a single colour. It’s also important to choose plants that stimulate the senses with vibrant colours and beautiful scents – particularly flowers like carnations, hydrangea and lavender.

Feel connected

Including items that are linked to the past of the person with dementia can make the person with dementia feel more connected to the garden. This could be a bird table, a milk churn or a vegetable patch.

Providing a sheltered place to sit, relax and enjoy time with family and friends is perhaps obvious. But it is helpful if this seating is positioned with views back into the house so the person with dementia doesn’t become disoriented. And, finally offering people with dementia opportunities to partake in gardening activities such as planting seeds or weeding raised beds can bring joy into their days.

“Continuing gardening and spending time outdoors are ways that people can continue to live well with dementia. Fresh air, daylight, physical exercise with mental stimulation and exposure to nature are crucial for our health and wellbeing,” says Prof Brian Lawlor, consultant psychiatrist and chair of the Dementia: Understand Together campaign.

The dementia-friendly garden team has been working together for four years and last year, they won a silver medal for their dementia-friendly garden at Bloom. This year, they are hoping for a gold medal. “Being in a garden helps a person with dementia to be oriented in time and space. They may have difficulties with their visual perception so ensuring the garden doesn’t have shiny reflective surfaces, steps or lines on pavements can ease confusion. There also must be no trip hazards,” explains Grennan.

Keen gardener

Eamon O’Fearghail cares for his mother, Cathleen, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2010. He built a deck for his mother to sit out on and has a water feature for her to listen to. He is currently creating a vegetable patch in the garden. “My mother was a keen gardener and she likes to sit out and listen to the birds,” he says.

Greenan says that many gardens can be inaccessible to people with dementia but a few small changes can offer many more benefits. “A dementia-friendly garden incorporates the principles of universal design so it’s inclusive of everyone whether it’s parents with buggies or people using wheelchairs,” adds Grennan.

See understandtogether.ie for tips on how to create a dementia-friendly garden and a list of Alzheimer cafe groups, the monthly support meetings for people with dementia and their family and friends. See also bloominthepark.com