Dementia and gardening

Regular gardening activity has been shown by a recent study1, which followed people over a long period of time, to reduce the risk of dementia by 36%.

The fact that gardening activities are familiar to many people, that they can be adapted to the changing abilities of individuals and that they can be community-based, make it worth investigating as a treatment option alongside more traditional approaches.

The West Berkshire branch of the Alzheimer’s Society funded a small project which enabled Thrive to explore and develop such a programme, which we’ve run each summer since 2006. The gardening club was held in an enclosed garden with a vegetable plot, use of a greenhouse, shed, raised beds, large tubs and a sitting-out area. Sessions were held one morning a week for 20 weeks from May – October.

The gardening programme is designed to encourage physical activity, invite social interaction on a 1:1 basis and in a group, and provide opportunities for achievement, reminiscence and enjoyment. Each session starts and ends with a social gathering when each person is encouraged to say what they have been doing and what has to be done next. In this way, individuals’ memory recall from the previous week and from the previous few hours is encouraged in an acceptable way and in context.

Staff and helpers guide and assist the gardeners whilst they are working and they engage in conversation continually. Topics can range from the practical issues of the gardening tasks, for example, which tools to use or what had to be done next, to remembering the names of unusual vegetables and exchanging recipes.

Carers report that the benefits experienced by the disabled gardeners extend beyond the session itself. Increased confidence is widely noted, gardening becomes a topic of conversation and some individuals even start to garden again at home.

1.Simons LA, Simons J, McCallum J & Friedlander.Y Lifestyle factors and risk of dementia: Dubbo Study of the elderly MJA , 2006, 184(2) 68-70.