The importance of gardens for those with dementia

When residents at Green Park Care Home in Warrington visited Bents Garden Centre recently, they thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to smell the roses and take in the brilliantly coloured lupins.

The trip was organised at the request of one of the care home’s residents, Dorothy, who recalled visiting there previously and not being able to go as regularly as she once had since moving to the home. This shows how important getting out and about is for someone living with dementia.

Many of us take our ability to get outside for granted, to enjoy fresh air, sunlight, rain, and plants and trees. Yet people living in care homes, especially those with dementia, are all too often unable to do this.

Walking in green and pleasant environments reduces stress levels and increases self-esteem, allowing people to reap the benefits of activity and sociability. For someone with dementia this is particularly important as evidence suggests that keeping the brain exercised and active can help to lessen, and in some cases, actually prevent, cognitive decline. 

There’s a wide range of enriching activities relating to plants, flowers and gardens that can be enjoyed. As well as sowing seeds, planting seedlings, watering or pruning, gardens can inspire different creative pursuits such as drawing, painting or photography. With their different smells, colours and shapes, flowers can also be used as a great conversation starter, prompting people’s memories about their favourites or helping them remember a certain time and place in their lives.

Recognition of this has led Orchard Care Homes, a leading care provider for the elderly, to adapt and develop the approach to the care of its elderly residents.

Working with Oomph!, a company that aims to enhance people’s mental, physical and emotional wellbeing through innovative exercise and activities, Orchard Care Homes has set up an activities programme in all of its 39 homes across the country. With activities tailored to the wishes, needs, life stories and interests of its residents, the programme emphasises the value of outdoor spaces.

Through this relationship, Orchard Care Homes is introducing a series of skills workshops for residents entitled, Oomph! Nature. Created by Oomph! in partnership with Kew Gardens, these sessions offer the opportunity to try something new or to rediscover lost passions. With a focus on music therapies, mindfulness and relaxation, residents are being encouraged to get outdoors and appreciate nature more. Adapting the programme to fit their needs and abilities, they are also being encouraged to look at ways in which they can bring the outside in.

Engaging days out to a range of outside destinations are also planned, with different types of outdoor experiences arranged through partnerships with the National Trust, amongst others. 

Trips to gardens create link between past and presentGardens are a stimulating, peaceful outdoor environment for those with dementia

“The trips we’re organising aim to connect residents to the people and places that matter most to them,” said Tom Brookes, CEO of Orchard Care Homes.

“Creating a genuine connection between the past and present is key. Our relationship with the National Trust allows us to visit properties that have historical significance as well as a range of beautiful gardens designed to illicit a positive response.”

Other days out previously organised by Orchard Care Homes have included some unexpected locations, such as gin distilleries, monkey sanctuaries and racing tracks.

Following the trip to Bents Garden Centre, Green Park Care Home’s residents confirmed that they had a lovely day out. This just goes to show how garden-related activities provide opportunities for people with dementia to get involved, to express themselves and interact with others – all important factors in ensuring those affected can enjoy life to the full.

Clinicians from Orchard Care Homes have developed a ground-breaking, new approach to dementia care, called Reconnect. This pioneering plan is set to launch with a Community Open Day at Green Park Care Home at Great Sankey, Warrington, on 30th August, from 10am to 3pm. A Professionals Open Day will also take place on 2nd September, providing insight into how the Reconnect model will deliver an innovative approach to empower people living with dementia to retain their identity, in a safe and positive environment.