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Gardens May Be Therapeutic For Dementia Patients

Adding green space to nursing homes might be a good idea

smithsonian.com

Taking time to smell the roses is good advice for just about anybody, but a new study from the University of Exeter shows that gardens might be particularly good for dementia patients.  

The researchers looked at a variety of different studies done on the topic and found that “there are promising impacts on levels of agitation in care home residents with dementia to spend time in a garden.”

Agitation is one of the most difficult symptoms of dementia for patients and caregivers alike. Increasingly, studies are looking at how to reduce agitation in patients without resorting to drugs. One avenue that some nursing homes are exploring is aromatherapy, while others, as this new study suggests, are turning to nature. 

Author Ruth Garside told Fast Co.Design that having a garden with a variety of different kinds of spaces and ways of interacting (some people might prefer gardening, while others might want to take a walk) could help meet more peoples' needs. 

From the study:  

Benefits of the garden were thought to occur through 2 mechanisms: reminiscence and sensory stimulation. The evidence suggests that these mechanisms work partly by encouraging a relaxing and calming environment, while also providing an opportunity to maintain life skills and habits. This is in part supported by other research that suggests that merely viewing nature can reduce stress and anxiety. Other studies also have suggested that physical activity may have a role in slowing cognitive decline and in reducing falls, both of which happen in the garden environment.

Saying that putting gardens in nursing homes could help residents is one thing, but as the authors of the study note, implementation is much more difficult. Staffing shortages and security protocols designed to keep residents safe might limit their ability to access the garden. 

The scientists also note that a lot more research is needed, including looking into accessibility barriers and at specific patient outcomes, to see how much of an impact, good or bad, gardens really have on patients’ well-being. 

While more research into the specifics of gardens and dementia patients would be nice, there has been plenty of other research into humanity’s relationships to the outdoors, and gardens in particular. In fact, there is a whole field of study called ecopsychology which looks at how nature is related to people’s mental well-being.

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