Dig in to Gardening

Gardening has lots of benefits for you and you your loved one.

By Jennifer Sellers

Gardening. It’s one of the great pastimes of summer, and it’s something that can be enjoyed by all. This shared activity can have a number of benefits for your loved one, in particular:

A connection with nature and time spent in fresh air. Time outside satisfies the senses in ways that can’t be replicated indoors. Not only can certain sights, sounds and sensations be pleasing to your loved one, they may also evoke memories. The fresh smell of a tomato plant may remind them of childhood summers spent picking vegetables with their grandparents. A warm breeze may bring back a special recollection of a vacation long ago. And the sight of a hummingbird hovering over a squash blossom may trigger a memory of a long-loved, but recently forgotten, painting. These are only possibilities, of course, but they are guaranteed to be much more stimulating than an afternoon spent in front of the TV. Studies have shown that gardens engaging the senses also tend to reduce anxiety and agitation and improve morale.

A low-key activity for the mind and body. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercising as little as 20 minutes, three times a week, provides a boost in mood, a decreased risk of falls, reduced wandering and delayed nursing home placement for people with Alzheimer’s disease. As any gardener knows, tending a garden can be hard work. However, you can adjust the amount of gardening your loved one does based on his or her abilities. Someone with early-stage Alzheimer’s, for example, may still be capable of doing quite a bit of work. Someone with more advanced Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, may need basic, simple activities, like watering the plants. If your loved one isn’t able to help out, he or she may still get a lot of enjoyment from walking, or being wheeled out, to look at the garden.

The satisfaction of harvesting and eating the fruits of your labor. Allow your loved one to share in the achievement of growing food. This can foster confidence, a sense of purpose and feelings of camaraderie. Cook special dinners featuring ingredients from your garden. Not only will this allow you to take pride in your shared labor; it will offer you fresh, healthy ingredients to cook with.

Gardening Activities for Your Loved One

Keeping in mind the stage of your loved one’s dementia, as well as his or her overall health, there are a variety of gardening activities he or she may participate in:

  • Collecting coffee grounds and eggshells for a compost pile
  • Placing plants or seeds in soil
  • Pulling weeds
  • Watering the garden
  • Picking vegetables
  • Rinsing picked produce
  • Sweeping any paths along the garden

Exercise Caution

Tasks that require a lot of dexterity (tying stakes), work with sharp objects (clipping herbs, pruning plants) or heavy labor (digging, carrying soil bags) are not recommended for most people with dementia.

If your loved one is unable to help with gardening, provide a seat nearby for him or her. Just be sure to provide plenty of shade, hydration and sun protection. During hot summer days, gardening should be enjoyed either early in the morning or late in the evening. On days of extreme heat, your loved one should be kept inside.