How to Create a Dementia-Friendly Garden

Despite the fact that dementia conditions like Alzheimer’s can’t be cured, there are still many ways in which we can support patients with dementia and help them lead happy and comfortable lives for as long as possible. Spending time outdoors in a pleasant setting, like a garden, can work wonders for these patients, and this guide will explore the best ways to make a dementia-safe garden.

Benefits of Dementia-Friendly Gardens

Dementia-friendly gardens can offer an array of advantages, both for dementia patients and the people closest to them, like carers and family members.

Cognitive and emotional benefits

Many dementia patients enjoy spending time outdoors. The fresh air, the smell of the flowers, the sight of pretty plants, and the opportunity to have moments outside, rather than being cooped up, can all help patients enjoy a happier mood. Some may even experience cognitive benefits, with memories and senses triggered by being out in the open air.

Social and sensory benefits

Dementia-friendly gardens also have social and sensory benefits. They give patients the chance to spend quality time outside with their loved ones, enjoying the air and sunshine together, rather than always having to stay inside. And certain sensory triggers, like a gust of wind or the sound of birdsong, can aid a patient’s cognitive abilities.

Design Principles for Dementia-Friendly Gardens

So, how do you go about building a dementia-friendly garden? Well, as you might expect, safety is the main concern. These kinds of gardens can certainly be just as beautiful as the rest, but they need to be designed with the user in mind, with an appropriate layout and key features to provide a safe, comfortable space for the patient to be.

Low maintenance landscaping tends to be a typical feature of these spaces, helping to ensure that the patients and their families don’t need to worry about spending hours on tasks like mowing, weeding, tending to the plants, and so on. In addition, Alzheimer’s-friendly gardens should also come equipped with signage and visual elements to aid in navigation.

Planning Your Dementia-Friendly Garden

If you’ve decided to go ahead with a dementia-friendly backyard, you’ll need to plan it out with great care. If you fail to plan, you could miss something that might render the entire space less safe or less usable for the patient. Therefore, it’s best to take your time, thinking about layout, safety, and so on to make sure that your final space is 100% fit for purpose.

Safety considerations

First up, safety. As mentioned above, safety is the No. 1 concern when it comes to dementia-friendly gardens. So, during every single step of the planning and designing process, you have to keep safety in mind. That means thinking about tripping hazards, accessibility, uneven surfaces, and even plants that might be hazardous or dangerous in some way.

Minimizing hazards and ensuring accessibility

Following on from the previous point, it’s crucial to ensure that any and all hazards are kept to an absolute minimum in your dementia-friendly garden. You may need to bring in an expert eye to look over your garden plans and try to identify any issues or accessibility difficulties that you may not have noticed.

Creating a sensory-rich environment

Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients can really benefit from sensory activities and items. Anything that can trigger their senses of taste, hearing, smell, and sight can be useful in elevating their mood and improving their quality of life. Therefore, with safety out of the way, you’ll want to next focus on filling out your garden with sensory additions.

Incorporating sensory elements like colors, scents, and textures

So, what kinds of sensory elements can you mix in with your dementia-friendly garden? Well, colors are a good way to start. Adding colorful decorative items around the place can make it more engaging for a patient, and a nice mix of flowers and plants will also add sights and smells. Different textures can make the place more interesting to spend time in, and auditory additions, like wind chimes, could provide a pleasant ambiance.

Choosing appropriate plants and features

Every garden needs plants, but you can’t simply throw any old plants in a dementia-friendly garden. As stated earlier on, certain plants are very high-maintenance and require very heavy levels of care, which can be difficult even for people in perfect health, let alone those with dementia conditions, like Alzheimer’s.

Low-maintenance plants

Any plants you add to your dementia-friendly garden should be low-maintenance. That means that they shouldn’t need lots of care. Low-maintenance plants are those that don’t need watering too often and are generally quite self-sufficient, able to look after themselves and thrive without too much oversight or manual care. Artificial grass can also be used, thanks to its very low-maintenance nature.

Engaging elements such as bird feeders, wind chimes, and water features

You can also decorate and enhance a dementia-safe garden with a mixture of additional features. Bird feeders are great additions, for example, as they can draw birds and wildlife into the space, giving patients other ways to enjoy their garden as they watch the birds and listen to their song. The aforementioned wind chimes are wonderful for providing relaxing melodies on the breeze, while water features can not only make a garden much more beautiful, but also more soothing, perfect for patients with conditions like Alzheimer’s.

Designing the Garden Layout

With the garden all planned, the next phase is to design its layout. This is a big step, because the layout needs to be simple and clear for the patient to understand. Otherwise, they could get confused or even feel overwhelmed by the space and not enjoy spending time in it.

Creating clear pathways and visual cues

Lay out pathways through the garden, with visual cues to guide the way. Pavers, for example, can be placed in a row to signal a path that the patient can walk down, with arches overhead or hedges and plants either side of each path.

Incorporating signage and landmarks

Signage is also recommended in dementia-friendly gardens. Arrows and signs can help people find their way around the garden and locate the areas that interest them the most without feeling lost or confused.

Seating areas for rest and social interaction

Given that dementia patients are often quite elderly, it’s also important to provide comfortable seating spaces around the garden where they can sit, rest, and enjoy social interaction with carers and family members.

Accessible gardening areas

Some patients may enjoy tending to the garden in various ways, like watering some of the plants, for example. Indeed, gardening is one of the best activities for dementia patients. Adding a couple of accessible gardening areas will give patients the chance to look after the garden in a safe and convenient way.

Seasonal Variations

It’s important to remember that weather conditions will change from season to season, and a garden design that works perfectly in summer may not be quite as comfortable during the colder months of the year.

Planning for year-round appeal

To avoid the garden becoming less useful and relevant in fall and winter, try to plan for year-round usage and appeal. Choose plants that can cope with changing weather and provide covered seating areas and spaces that can be used in almost any weather.

Maintaining the Garden

Of course, every garden also needs care and maintenance. Even if you’ve filled your garden with low-maintenance local plants, they’ll still need some tending to. It’s important to find time for the basic garden maintenance tasks, like weeding and watering, to ensure that the place doesn’t lose its charm.

Overall, a dementia-friendly garden is a wonderful addition to any home or care facility. But it has to be planned out correctly. Follow the steps above and keep safety and accessibility in mind, every step of the way, to make a garden that is beautiful, pleasant, secure, and fully adapted to dementia patients.

Posted in Gardening on Sep 29, 2023