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Gardening and dementia

Gardening club author, Anne Swithinbank, discusses the links between gardening and dementia, along with tips to help best plan a garden. Photographs kindly provided by John Swithinbank. To subscribe to the Gardening Club, please click here

Safe and sensory

Statistics surrounding dementia, or disorders that trigger loss of brain function, are scary. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, there are an estimated 850,000 people with dementia in the UK with numbers predicted to top a million by 2025. Currently 1 in 6 people over the age of 80 in the UK have some form of dementia and it applies to 70% of people in care homes. Living with this, whether as a patient or a carer, can often seem mired in negativity but gardening can help redress the balance. 

We all tend to ‘lose’ ourselves in a garden, shedding worries while immersed by the scents and sounds around us. Fresh air, physical activity, discussion and creativity all improve well-being. Adaptations to create a safe and rewarding garden can include smooth, wide pathways, some raised beds and a covered area for shade and shelter. Simplify the design, so there is an obvious route through the garden with clear and secure entry points.

  • Designs based on a figure of eight are ideal, avoiding the confusion of dead ends.
  • Incorporate plenty of edible plants, including strawberries and aromatic herbs like rosemary and mint. 
  • Make sure there are no poisonous plants, including those with irritant leaves.
  • Although parts of the garden can be permanent and low maintenance, provide areas that require continual, intensive gardening.
  • Add scented plants to trigger memories, such as lavender and sweet peas. 
  • Roses are a must but look for almost thornless varieties; white or pale pink ‘Madame Alfred Carriere’, or completely thornless pink-flowered ‘Zephirine Drouhin’. Both are fragrant, repeat flowering climbers and although the latter is prone to mildew against a wall or fence, it makes a good hedge.

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Gardening expert and author of the Quilter Cheviot Gardening Club, Anne Swithinbank.

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