It looks as if winter is behind us as the days grow warmer and spring flowers can be seen poking through the dead leaves and brown grass. This is the time when avid gardeners start planning their projects and getting everything in shape for the season. Many of us look at these masters of the soil and envy their diligence and a special gift of producing beautiful grass, bright flowers and delicious vegetables. These people are often noted as having a “green thumb”.
Those who do not possess this digit often claim to have killed every plant they have ever touched. Regardless of which group you fall in, there is still a lot to be gained by practicing horticultural therapy and working with plants. To help you care for a family member, we have compiled a list of the advantages of performing horticultural therapy with an individual that has dementia.
Advantages of Horticultural Therapy
Enhances Your Mood
The data in a previous study released in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation indicates that horticultural therapy can be practiced to improve an individual’s mood. One study compared variations in mood among two groups of individuals that have suffered from cardiac issues in the past. A single group of people recovering from cardiac problems was exposed to horticulture therapy to promote healing and stress reduction.
The second group of patients was exposed to educational programs. Individuals in horticultural therapy reported large decreases in mood variations. On the other hand, patients that participated in the educational classes did not encounter decreases in mood deviations. If your loved one with dementia is angry or confused, an easy way to improve their mood is to perform horticultural therapy. Planting and harvesting tomatoes, lettuce, or other fruits and vegetables can give your family member a sense of accomplishment.
Strengthens Memory & Cognition
The insights from a prior study illustrate that horticulture therapy can be practiced to help improve attention and promote high levels of concentration. In addition, this type of therapy can be implemented to lower stress and anxiety in individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia. High levels of stress can negatively impact an individual’s short and long-term memory. Introducing your loved one to horticulture therapy can help reduce stress and memory issues.
Improves Communication Skills
A variety of studies have shown the advantages of horticulture therapy for enhancing communication skills with friends and family. This type of therapy can be utilized to help your loved one form new interpersonal relationships. If you are looking for ways to increase the amount of social interactions in your loved ones life, consider performing horticultural therapy with a small group of friends. This will help your family member with dementia communicate with other acquaintances in a stress-free environment.
Promotes Confidence & Curiosity
Performing short horticultural therapy sessions throughout the day is an excellent way to improve your family members confidence. In addition, this type of therapy can be introduced by a certified therapist as a way to introduce a sense of responsibility into your loved ones life. A therapist can collaborate with your family member to create a horticulture therapy schedule that includes planting and watering the garden during the day. Tasking your loved one with the responsibility of keeping a garden alive is an easy way to promote the development of passion and confidence.
Other Advantages of Horticulture Therapy
The benefits of working with and being surrounded by plants and nature are numerous. Gardens have been a part of mankind’s history since the beginning. Developed first out of necessity, then later on as a way to inspire and provide beauty, gardens have many powers, both tangible and intangible. The use of gardening for physical and mental well-being is called horticulture therapy and has been used and praised by professionals for many years.
Jan Hoetker Doherty, a Master Gardener, who provided over 9 years of horticulture therapy in nursing homes says “Horticulture, or garden, therapy provides people with cognitive and spiritual stimulation through the senses: feeling the soft leaves, smelling the fragrant blossoms, and seeing the vivid colors of nature. It is also a good physical activity as the person uses the hands to prune and arrange the plants.
Simple garden activities are especially therapeutic for patients with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, and can be enjoyed individually or in small groups. They can also be done with family and friends of all generations. These garden activity ideas can be easily modified for different levels of memory loss. Taking care of a plant can be an occupational task, giving the person with dementia a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Arranging flowers can be an art activity that is easy and has no right or wrong answers.”
What is Horticultural Therapy?
Horticultural therapy is a type of treatment that can be performed in a garden or yard to alleviate the symptoms of dementia. Horticulture therapy is performed with a therapist who helps individuals master the process of planting, watering, and caring for plants. This kind of therapy can be utilized with individuals that have dementia to promote the adoption of new hobbies and skills. In addition, horticultural therapy can improve the effectiveness of other types of therapies an individual may be involved in.
Therapy Can Be Modified to Accommodate An Individual’s Mental & Physical State
Of course, the ability level of the person with Alzheimer’s will dictate the extent and the scope of activities that are performed in horticultural therapy sessions. For example, someone in the later stages of dementia may be overwhelmed by a full on garden. In this case, perhaps tending to a window box inside their home may be more appropriate or arranging flowers in a vase.
It is important to modify the activities performed in horticultural therapy to a dementia patient’s current level of abilities so as not to create frustration or confusion. On the other hand, an individual in an early stage of dementia can be involved in every stage of the planting and harvesting processes. As a caregiver you will know how involved your loved one can be.
It is also important to keep in mind that in addition to the benefits of participating in horticultural therapy, there are also many benefits from simply being in or around a garden. As mentioned earlier, they can be calming respites, for both the loved one and the caregiver, they can provide a space to receive visitors as well as encourage interaction, inspiration and long-term memory recall.
Gardening Tips For Alzheimer’s Caregivers
While gardening may seem like a basic activity, there are a few things caregivers can do to ensure a horticultural therapy session is a pleasant experience.
- Create a garden in the shape of a figure eight, as dead end gardens can cause confusion.
- Ensure all plants are non-toxic.
- Build raised beds so that gardening is more accessible and enjoyable.
- Garden early in the morning to avoid the hottest times of the day.
- Provide adequate sunscreen and a hat to protect your loved one from the sun.
- Avoid giving someone with dementia any sharp gardening tools.
- Keep it lighthearted and fun!
How To Perform Horticulture Therapy in Apartments
It’s hard to deny the benefits of horticulture therapy, but what if you don’t have outdoor space of your own? People living in apartments or in large urban areas may not be able to plant a garden. There are several options to consider. Window gardens and houseplants can provide many of the benefits that come with the hands-on processes of gardening. Most cities also provide space for public operated gardens or have volunteer garden organizations that tend to public spaces.
Another source would be gardening clubs or botanical gardens that offer classes or tours. As mentioned before, just being around plants and nature will have positive effects for both the person with Alzheimer’s as well as the caregiver. So, find your green thumb and start growing! Our staff at our dementia care facility in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois offers horticultural therapy and gardening activities for individuals in our community. If you need assistance caring for a loved one that has dementia, give the team at our Alzheimer’s care facility and community a call by phone at (630) 534-0886.