Dementia and gardening

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

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.

In 2006, the West Berkshire branch of the Alzheimer’s Society funded a small project which enabled Thrive to explore and develop such a programme. 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 was 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 started and ended with a social gathering where each person was 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 was encouraged in an acceptable way and in context.

Staff and helpers guided and assisted the gardeners while they were working and engaged in conversation continually. Topics ranged 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 reported the benefits experienced by the disabled gardeners extended beyond the session itself. Increased confidence was widely noted, gardening became a topic of conversation and some individuals even started 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.