Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have a green thumb to enjoy gardening. It’s an activity that reduces stress and fosters happiness.
Growing your own flowers and plants has many benefits for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease. April is National Gardening Month – the perfect time for you and your loved one to start planning.
Health Benefits of Gardening for Seniors with Alzheimer's
Digging in the dirt is a non-pharmacological way to improve the quality of life for an aging loved one with memory loss. The very act of gardening is a pleasant activity for seniors whether or not a plant eventually grows. There are lasting health benefits for gardening for someone who has Alzheimer’s disease, which include:
- Pain reduction
- Improvement in attention span
- Lower stress
- Less agitation
- Decreased need for medications
- Improved strength and balance to help minimize falls
- Stimulates reminiscing
- Emotional healing
Gardening Tips for Family Caregivers
If you’re a caregiver for someone with dementia, start a garden together this spring. An outdoor space can be a sanctuary that provides you and your loved one with a time and place to relax.
Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your gardening activities with your senior with Alzheimer’s:
- Ask your loved one what plants, flowers and colors they like. If they aren’t able to answer verbally, show them pictures from gardening magazines or garden websites and encourage them to point to their favorites.
- Make gardening a family affair. Encourage your siblings and children to help your parent plant flowers, herbs and vegetables.
- Provide prompts to help your senior loved one remember to nurture their garden on a regular basis.
- Use raised plant beds for safer, easier access to vegetables and flowers.
- Install railings around the plant beds. When your senior loved one has something to hold onto, it makes them feel safe and maximizes their independence.
- Build the garden around paths that form a circle. Keep the path away from exits or gates to prevent your loved one from wandering out of the backyard.
- Be sure to place benches for your loved one to rest on throughout the garden.
- Also include fountains and water features along the pathway. Water provides positive stimulation to your loved one’s senses and helps to calm agitation and stress.
Best Plants to Grow for People with Alzheimer's
After asking your loved one about their favorite colors and flowers, make a list. Check that the plants, flowers and vegetables are appropriate for seniors with memory loss.
- Grow only non-toxic plants. An adult with a memory impairment might try to eat pretty flowers that catch the eye.
- Use a variety of colors and smells to spark your loved one’s senses.
- Plant vegetables that you can pick off the vine together and use when preparing meals.
- Add vibrant herbs like lavender and rosemary to the garden. When they bloom, bring them inside and make essential oils. Both offer stress-relieving benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Our final tip is to remember how much time you will be able to devote to gardening and choose plants with maintenance requirements that match your availability.