Every spring our Anthem Memory Care communities get out the gardening gloves and get to work. Planting is an activity that our residents, staff and families look forward to. It is a treat for the senses and an opportunity to engage with each other while connecting with nature.
That doesn’t mean, however, that once planted we move on to other activities and forget about our amazing flower beds and vegetable patches! We continue to nurture and care for our plants all year round.
Our gardens and flower beds are a happy place for so many of our residents who loved to garden in their earlier years. So what is it about getting out and digging around in the earth and making things grow that is so healthy and satisfying for individuals living with dementia?
Here are three key benefits that gardening brings to everyone, but especially to those who struggle with cognition and connecting to others and world around them:
- It fosters better physical health. The fresh air and the physical activity itself provide added oxygen to the body, including the brain. That results in better focus, lowering of blood pressure and improved muscle and joint strength and flexibility. The sun, as you may know, is also a great source of vitamin D, which helps strengthen resistance to illness.
- It improves emotional wellbeing. In addition to being a lot of fun, the process of planting and caring for plants is a purposeful activity. Finding purpose in all our lives is important, but especially to those challenged by dementia. Gardening activities are also known to be soothing and calming on the nerves. This leads to an improved emotional outlook and can be a great antidote to stresses that might come from a particularly challenging day.
- It stimulates inter-personal connections. Some of the best conversations we have with our residents have occurred while planting flowers in our large planters together. The experience often sparks some memories as residents recall with pride their beautiful gardens from back in their younger years. The act of working side by side creates an environment that is naturally relaxing and invites casual conversation.
If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, try setting up a table outdoors with a planter box, potting soil and a few pretty plants from your local nursery. Pull up a couple of chairs and work together to transfer the plants to the planter. It is important to take it slowly, especially the first time you do it. Start with just a few plants and keep the sessions short. Always be on the lookout for signs of fatigue or anxiety in your loved one.
With a little consistent effort and patience, you can create a really special activity and a peaceful time to engage with each other as you connect with nature.
(Our header image proves that planting season is in full bloom at Willowbrook Place Memory Care in Littleton, Colorado!)