There is evidence to suggest that as mental capacity changes in people with dementia, some patients will function more on a sensory level rather than an intellectual level. The establishment of sensory gardens are a great tool to help people with dementia which can help to inspire and recover old memories. Sensory gardens can be used in both residential care, community, and personal household settings.
Plants of different textures, colours and smells should be incorporated. The smell of mint, roses, lavender or even wet leaves can be particularly good triggers for memories, as can a seating area or dry plot of grass to lay on, or patches of lawn daisies grown deliberately to make daisy chains.
If you are considering adapting a garden to become a sensory garden, there are a few key design principles to adhere to:
- Sustainability: Use predominately low maintenance plants except in interactive garden beds used for horticultural therapy activities
- Orientation: People with dementia often forget where they are going and from where they’ve come. This can be confining and inhibit them from exploring outdoors. Incorporate a simple looped path system to lead users along a journey of interesting focal points and then return them to where they began.
- Accessibility: Accessibility affects people with dementia on both a physical and mental level. Ensure your garden is accessibility to people with dementia by removing the physical and mental barriers.Ensure main paths are wide enough for two users either walking or in wheelchairs to pass easily.
- Socialization: Enhance the quality of like of people with dementia by creating opportunities to socialize and interact with friends, family, children, pets and carers. Include interactive garden features that will bring people together such as a men’s shed, raised garden beds, flower gardens, bird feeders and baths.
- Meaningful activity: “People with dementia still have the energy and desire to remain active and involved in the world around them. Throughout our lives, we develop activities and interests, hobbies, likes and dislikes, skills and talents, that give our life structure and meaning and provide a sense of worth. These activities whether recreational or activities related to ordinary household tasks, establish a routine, provide opportunities for socialization, and help define who we are.” (Brawley 2007)
- Reminiscence: For people with dementia encouraging the act of reminiscence can be highly beneficial to their inner well being and their interpersonal skills. Reminiscence involves exchanging memories with others and the passing on of information, wisdom and skills. By incorporating reminiscence elements and activities, people with dementia are able to engage with the world around them and retain feelings of value, importance, belonging and peace.
- Sensory stimulation: Sensory stimulation is important in the overall emotional well being of people with dementia. It can convey emotional support, affection and respect and also play a major part in helping people with dementia communicate. Sensory stimulation is the engaging of any of our five senses – sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.
- Safety: Safety can be the defining factor in whether a garden is allowed to be used or not. Ensure paths and paving are level, smooth, slip resistant and low glare. Locate anything that could be used as a climbing aid a safe distance away from the fence. Disguise entrances and exits that are not for people with dementia by making them unmarked panels in the fencing with no obvious locks or handles.
You do not have to have a large space to do this. Even by planting fragrant and bright plants in pots around a courtyard can make a difference.