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How To: Create A Dementia Friendly Garden

Quality of life is a key consideration for the elderly – making sure that their golden years are as stimulating and enjoyable as possible. Dementia is a general term, describing a group of symptoms related with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities – 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 in the UK live with dementia, with one person being diagnosed every three minutes.

Creating a dementia-friendly space, helps to combat the stigma and confusion around dementia – focusing on ways to include and embrace those who live with the illness in a fun and creative way. Here are a few suggestions to bear in mind when developing a dementia-friendly garden:

  1. Encourage Wildlife – The Benefits of nature, natural light and wildlife have a marked effect on the improvement of well being, happiness and a sense of purpose:
    • Bird Box and Feeds: Watching birds is both relaxing a therapeutic, often the same birds will return over long periods of time – encouraging recollection skills
    • Ivy and Climbing Plants: Evergreen plants and climbers are a great garden addition to ensure a protective habitat for wildlife throughout the year
    • Long Grass: Longer grass encourages wildlife, particularly butterflies and will allow for wild flowers to flourish – keep grass cutting to a minimum over the summer months
    • Flowers: Plant an array of bulbs and perennials every couple of months to create a sensory experience throughout the year – flowers attract a variety of animals including bees and butterflies
  2. Sensory Experience – Paying close attention to sensory elements in a dementia-friendly garden is particularly important to help evoke positive memories and improve mood:
    • Familiar Smells: Familiar smells that trigger memories or encourage positive moods are an important element to any sensory garden. Aromatic flowers and herbs such as lavender and rosemary are soothing and may conjure old memories of home
    • Sounds: The addition of wind chimes will create an ambient background sound
    • Touch: Textured surfaces such as bark-edged furniture, soft shrubs and crinkly cushions on outdoor furniture will all aid the sensory experience
    • Taste: Taste is an extremely important sense to rouse as it often stimulates memory – if your garden has the capacity for a fruit tree or bush then this would be a great addition
    • Colours: Incorporate a mix of colourful plants and soft furnishings within the garden design – colour and contrast are vital for the elderly as their eye-sight fades
  3. Comfort – The final consideration for any dementia-friendly garden is comfort. Visitors to the garden may not be able to spend very long perusing the plants and wildlife so a comfortable spot to sit and observe is vital:
    • Seating: Comfortable, sturdy and all-weather outdoor furniture is key – the seating level also needs to be accessible for those who are unsteady on their feet. The ideal option is a good-quality wooden bench with a soft, cushioned seat
    • Shelter: For the colder, wetter months, an undercover area would be ideal – either a gazebo or garden room with patio doors is a great option to ensure the garden is accessible all year
    • Soft Furnishings: For safety and comfort, soft furnishings such as cushions, and blankets should be available – during the summer these could be placed in a wicker basket to be used when needed

Once your dementia-friendly garden is complete – maximise its potential with regular activities, games and visits from local dog owners and children: this has been proven to improve well being and encourage a positive outlook on life.

For inspiration on suitable activities, Active Minds offer a huge selection of activities for dementia aimed to bring people together, have fun and engage – these are the perfect addition to any dementia-friendly garden. For information about managing dementia at home, take a look at Helping Hands.