For people with dementia gardens are especially important. They offer real health benefits that can reduce the symptoms of dementia. People with Alzheimer’s disease sometimes “turn night into day”. This can be exhausting for carers, as they can’t get a full night’s sleep themselves. Going out into the garden every morning can help older people with dementia to sleep at night. Natural body chemicals that are affected in particular by morning light, regulate our internal body clock. The chemicals are reduced in older people with dementia. If they go out in the garden, in morning light, it can help a person with dementia get a better natural sleep that night.
Daylight also helps our bodies to make Vitamin D. This is so important for the prevention of falls and prevention of fractures if you do fall over. A person with dementia may be older and frail, but they also sometimes mistake what they see, and end up putting a foot wrong. No diet or pills can match the boost you can get from bathing your arms and legs in a little bit of morning or evening sun in the summer months. You can store up the benefits for the winter days.
It is good to know how to encourage people with dementia to use gardens, balconies and roof terraces, and important to support designers and architects of houses and care homes to include outdoor spaces in their designs. To make sure that people get fresh air, exercise, and have something interesting to do, the garden has to be appealing.
The dementia friendly garden has many features. It needs things growing there all year round. Certain features can attract birds or little mammals like squirrels and a seat near a play area for children offers hours of distraction for older people.
Watch out for the paving, to allow people to shuffle or use a walking aid if needed, and avoid patterns that can be mistaken for steps and stairs. Add a washing line, some grass to cut, a patch to dig and some raised flower beds and it will be great. Don’t make it seem like a prison yard. Attractive fencing and discreet gates will make it less likely that people will try to leave inappropriately.
Not least, the person with dementia may have gardening skills and advice to give you, so keep them involved in every aspect you can.
If you want to know more about dementia architecture and design and you are in the Edinburgh area; come to the Festival of politics at Holyrood and hear the experts.