Good garden design to help people living with dementia


Thrive is helping hundreds of people living with dementia to safely use gardens and the outdoor environment to improve their health and wellbeing.

We are providing expert advice and guidance to garden designers who will transform the outdoor space at 30 dementia care settings in the UK.

By carefully designing the gardens, residents will be encouraged to use the outdoor spaces more often to improve their health and wellbeing.

Thrive is also training the staff working in those settings in how to make best use of the new outdoor space ensuring that people with dementia benefit from stimulating garden tasks and meaningful activity.

The work forms part of a project led by the charity Learning through Landscapes which received £1.3 million of funding from The Big Lottery. Age UK are providing expert professional guidance and there is a formal selection process to identify 30 dementia care settings whose gardens will be transformed by the charity Groundwork which will carry out all the hard landscaping and planting. The University of Kent will evaluate the project.

The team at Thrive have applied the research and knowledge gained from years of working with people who have dementia and have created a series of films and on-line resources for staff in care settings showing how and why gardening can help people living with dementias.

This has all been put together in the first ever web-based learning resource for garden designers on how to create a garden suitable for people with dementia.

Thrive has designed a new website which anyone can access and find out more about dementia-friendly gardens.

Damien Newman, Thrive’s Training and Education Manager said: "Thrive has experience in providing consultancy to care homes and dementia care settings throughout the UK on the best way to use gardening to promote health and wellbeing, and on how best to design a garden suitable for their residents.

"So we are pleased to be involved in this project which has the scope to benefit hundreds of people living with dementia, and other age-related conditions.

"We are keen now to see the first 10 newly designed gardens in this project and will be training the staff in the care settings in how to use and enjoy them with residents, helping them to understand the benefits this will bring. After all, what’s the point of having a fantastic new outdoor space and never knowing how to use it with the residents.

"Our training clearly demonstrates how to promote frequent access to the new outdoor spaces and we’ll help staff find ways of doing jobs in the garden suitable for each individual with dementia.

"An example of this is breaking each task down into stages or concentrating on the experience of the activity more than trying to get something finished depending on the stage of dementia. There will be ideas on seasonal activities too – gardening and the outdoor environment can be enjoyed throughout the year.

"As dementia progresses staff can encourage residents to just explore the sensory qualities of plants and nature can improve mood and affect.

"From our own pilot study research into the effects of gardening on those with young onset dementia we found that structured gardening activities appeared to alleviate the expected deterioration of wellbeing and possibly even cognitive functioning.

"Gardening can also provide opportunities for exercise to maintain physical functioning and provide time to socialise in an environment where we feel we belong."

Many of the 800,000 people in the UK living with dementia have had significant experience of the outdoors either through work or in their own leisure time, which is often lost as a result of the restrictions that dementia brings.

Although the health and wellbeing benefits of stimulating natural environments are becoming increasingly well known, it is often the case that the outside spaces of many dementia care settings are rarely used.

Garden designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin (pictured left), said: "Research has shown that some 50 per cent of residents at care settings never even get outside and just 20 minutes of daylight gives people a top up of Vitamin D.

"There are some general good rules to stick to when designing a garden for people with dementia. Keep to a simple pallet of colours, make sure the garden is safe by creating paths with no barriers so decisions don’t have to be made as this can cause anxiety and confusion.

"A well designed garden is a safe and enjoyable place that can help give a sense of time and continuity through being in touch with the seasons. Seating can be a place for conversation or quiet reflection and beds or containers at comfortable heights will make gardening more enjoyable.

"Think about including things that the residents may have enjoyed doing in the past like a hanging out the washing or why not create an allotment. We’d like staff at dementia care settings to try to make the garden part of everyday life as it once would have been for so many people."

Dr Jacqueline Hussey, said: "Most people with dementia are quite capable of doing activities and in particular gardening, in well managed short stages, can be of great benefit."

Kathryn Rossiter CEO at Thrive, said: "Our research shows that for people with dementia, gardening and being outdoors can lead to improved mood sociability and improved self-identify as valued and confident individuals.

"Carers say that dementia patients gardening together in a small group had resulted in feelings of independence, enjoyment, value and achievement.

"This project has the ability to touch the lives of hundreds of people living with dementia."

Juno Hollyhock, Executive Director, Learning through Landscapes, said: "Learning through Landscapes are delighted to be leading this groundbreaking new project and we are extremely grateful to the Big Lottery Fund and our partners.

"We chose to invite Thrive to be our training delivery partners as they have such an excellent reputation in the sector – we are enjoying working with them."