When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, you will discover that certain activities can be difficult or stressful for your family member. This doesn’t mean you need to cut out activities altogether. In fact, older adults with dementia benefit greatly from participating in activities as long as they are the right ones! These activities also give you a chance to strengthen your bond even in the face of the difficulties that dementia presents. One wonderful activity that we are all about here at Sunshine Care is horticulture therapy.
What Is Horticulture Therapy?
Horticulture therapy is simply the concept of using gardening as a way to improve minds, bodies, and spirits. We are inherently connected to the soil. We give it care and sweat, and it gives us the foods we need to thrive. Many older adults have some experience gardening, whether they grew up on a farm or cultivated a Freedom Garden with their families as part of the war effort.
Gardening can connect your loved one with past gardening memories, provide a safe and low-intensity physical workout, and promote positive feelings of accomplishment. As an added bonus, you and the whole family can enjoy the “fruits and veggies” of your labor when your crops begin to grow.
How to Garden With Your Loved One
You’ll need to take a strong hand in prepping the garden and guiding your loved one in order to make the garden a success. The best way to involve a loved one with dementia is to break up the gardening process into small, easy-to-accomplish tasks.
For instance, you’ll need to set up the plot of land and purchase the seeds, but you can assign your loved one to dig up small holes and then tuck in the seeds or to plant the stakes in the ground. Likewise, you can weed the garden together or mix in fresh compost to keep the soil healthy for your little plants.
Special Tip: Older individuals may have trouble kneeling or bending down for long periods of time, so consider creating a raised garden or container garden for a more comfortable experience.
The Benefits of Horticulture Therapy
Gardening is an activity that allows your loved one to enjoy the beautiful outdoors but keeps them in a safe environment. If the garden is at their home, then no travel is even necessary! Gardening also encourages concentration, problem-solving, and planning skills, which can help your loved one stay in the moment.
On the physical front, gardening can improve strength, stamina, mobility, and hand-eye coordination. It can also increase energy and endurance in the process. On a psychological level, gardening can reduce stress, increase confidence, and stimulate the senses for your loved one and you as well!
Perhaps the biggest benefit of horticulture therapy is that it gives you and your loved one a fun activity to share together; something that will produce clear rewards when you harvest your tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, or other crops. Though you’ll put physical seeds into the ground and wat
ch them grow, you’ll also be planting symbolic seeds of love and connection. You can spend your time in the garden telling stories or simply listening to nice music together.
Gardening is also an excellent activity for all ages, so invite the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the family to help. This may be their first chance to spend a lot of time with Grandpa or Great-Grandma and hear their stories. (It’s also a nice way to encourage older kids to look up from their phones!)
Here at Sunshine Care, horticulture therapy is a big part of daily life on our campus. Farmer Roy, our Director of Horticulture, hosts regular garden club meetings for our residents and local children. Together, young and old work in the five organic gardens, two fruit orchards, flower garden, and greenhouse on our campus. Much of the 20,000 pounds of fresh produce we harvest from our gardens each year goes right onto the dinner table, so our residents get to enjoy the results of all their hard work.
You can learn more about our horticulture therapy program at Sunshine Care or meet Farmer Roy in person at the free monthly garden lecture he hosts on the third Saturday of every month. See you there!