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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Zambakari

The Impact of Garden Therapy on Memory Care: A Guide for Caregivers

Dr. Christopher Zambakari, B.S., MBA, M.I.S., LP.D.

Owner/Operator; Desert Haven Home Care, Apollo Residential Assisted Living, Villa Fiore Assisted Living-Prescott Valley

 

Under a single home care umbrella, Desert Haven Home Care, Apollo Residential Assisted Living, and Villa Fiore Assisted Living-Prescott feature unparalleled care, feature unparalleled care, service and advocacy in the compassionate treatment of senior citizens in need of medical attention. Offered in a familial setting, the facilities are teamed by professionals passionate about their work and fully engaged in the welfare of residents. Each facility proudly provides patient-centric supervisory, assisted and directed care, short-term respite stays and memory care support for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

 

What is garden therapy? Garden therapy, also known as horticultural therapy, is a therapeutic practice that involves engaging individuals in gardening activities to improve their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This form of therapy has gained significant recognition in recent years for its positive impact on various populations, including those with memory care needs. Garden therapy provides a nurturing and calming environment that stimulates the senses and promotes relaxation, resulting in numerous benefits for individuals with memory impairments.


This much is known: Environment plays an important role in the care and treatment of seniors suffering from dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is one form. As the owner and operator of three assisted living care facilities in Arizona – Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix, Apollo Residential Assisted Living in Glendale, and Villa Fiore Assisted Living-Prescott Valley – I am familiar with the many ways a senior care environment can be enhanced – lighting, noise levels, assisted technology, kitchen and dining areas, gathering places and more – for the comfort of its patients, including the institution of on-site gardening and outdoors respite opportunities which, unfortunately, are all too often overlooked.



Image Credit: Shutterstock / Ivan Moreno sl

Permaculture, care theory to mix in proposed study at Desert Haven Home Care, Apollo Residential Assisted Living

A grant to develop a program mixing permaculture and the ethics of care could inspire new, more meaningful and more interactive activities at Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix and Apollo Residential Assisted Living in Glendale.


One of the hypotheses of the grant, says investigator Estève Giraud, a Ph.D. student in Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability, is that the combination of permaculture projects with thoughtful design has a positive effect on the development of a culture of care. Permaculture is an eco-cognizant practice that combines land, resources, people and the environment to form maximum positive environmental results.


“We also hope to demonstrate that the designs and practices we create will be greatly beneficial in a number of senior-living areas,” says Giraud. “In addition to increasing fresh food access, the grant offers the chance to learn more about agricultural, culinary and food preparation processes. Enhancing assisted living residents’ well-being is certainly likely to be a welcome product of the study, as can providing additional support for care workers, and strengthening the collective memory of how to grow food.”


"The grant has been part of a long plan to purposely design an environment that promotes and has the best chance to maximize wellness and well-being,” says Zambakari, who earned bachelor’s degree at ASU before earning his doctorate in law and policy from Northeastern University and his master’s in international studies (peace and conflict resolution). “I learned from my early experience in hospice years ago that by simply allowing residents with dementia to participate in hands-on activities in the garden you can improve their wellness; you’re able to engage them in new and meaningful ways. As an undergrad at ASU, I learned about the positive impacts of giving assisted living seniors a plant and having them take care of it. That, the simple care of a plant, was enough to give some meaning, reasons for hope and improved well-being.



Benefits of garden therapy for memory care

Garden therapy offers a wide range of benefits for individuals with memory care needs. One of the primary advantages is its positive impact on cognitive function. Engaging in gardening activities can enhance memory, attention, and problem-solving skills. The sensory stimulation provided by the natural environment of a garden can also improve mood and reduce stress levels in memory care patients. The therapeutic benefits of garden therapy extend beyond the cognitive realm, as it can also improve physical strength, coordination, and mobility.


Additionally, garden therapy provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment for memory care patients. Participating in gardening activities allows them to contribute to the growth and maintenance of plants and flowers, fostering a sense of pride and self-worth. The social aspect of garden therapy is also valuable, as it promotes social interaction and engagement with others, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness commonly experienced by individuals with memory impairments.


By creating a sensory-rich environment, memory care patients can fully immerse themselves in the therapeutic benefits of garden therapy.

The science behind garden therapy and memory

The effectiveness of garden therapy on memory care can be attributed to its impact on the brain. Research has shown that engaging in sensory experiences, such as touching soil, smelling flowers, and listening to the sounds of nature, can activate neural pathways associated with memory and emotional well-being. The sights and sounds of a garden can evoke positive memories and emotions, providing a sense of familiarity and comfort for memory care patients.


Furthermore, exposure to natural sunlight during garden therapy sessions can increase the production of vitamin D in the body, which has been linked to improved cognitive function and mood regulation. The physical activity involved in gardening also promotes blood flow to the brain, delivering essential nutrients and oxygen that support cognitive health. These scientific findings highlight the significant role that garden therapy can play in enhancing memory and overall well-being in individuals with memory care needs.



How to incorporate garden therapy into memory care routines

Incorporating garden therapy into memory care routines requires careful planning and consideration. First and foremost, it is essential to create a safe and accessible garden environment that is suitable for individuals with memory impairments. This may involve removing potential hazards such as sharp tools or toxic plants, and ensuring pathways are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs or walkers.


To make the garden therapy experience more engaging, consider incorporating elements that stimulate the senses. Plant a variety of flowers and herbs with different colors and fragrances to provide visual and olfactory stimulation. Add wind chimes or bird feeders to create auditory interest. Incorporate textured plants or materials to encourage tactile exploration. By creating a sensory-rich environment, memory care patients can fully immerse themselves in the therapeutic benefits of garden therapy.



Creating a sensory garden for memory care

A sensory garden is a specialized type of garden designed to maximize sensory stimulation and engagement for individuals with memory impairments. When creating a sensory garden for memory care, it is important to consider the specific needs and preferences of the individuals who will be using it. Here are some key elements to include:


  1. Plants and flowers: Choose a variety of plants and flowers with different colors, textures, and scents. Opt for low-maintenance options that are safe for individuals to touch and explore.

  2. Seating areas: Provide comfortable seating areas throughout the garden where memory care patients can relax and enjoy the surroundings. Consider adding benches, rocking chairs, or even hammocks for added comfort.

  3. Water features: Incorporate water elements such as fountains, small ponds, or bubbling streams. The sound and movement of water can be soothing and therapeutic for memory care patients.

  4. Pathways: Create wide, smooth pathways that are easy to navigate for individuals with mobility challenges. Consider using materials such as gravel or rubberized surfaces to provide sensory feedback underfoot.

  5. Sensory stations: Install interactive sensory stations throughout the garden where memory care patients can engage with different textures, smells, or sounds. For example, a station with aromatic herbs or a wind chime station can provide additional sensory experiences.


By carefully designing and maintaining a sensory garden, caregivers can provide memory care patients with a therapeutic and engaging outdoor space that promotes cognitive function, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life.



Garden therapy activities for memory care patients

Garden therapy offers a wide range of activities that can be tailored to the specific needs and abilities of memory care patients. Here are some examples of garden therapy activities that can be incorporated into memory care routines:


  1. Planting and potting: Engage memory care patients in the process of planting and potting flowers, herbs, or vegetables. This activity promotes fine motor skills, sensory stimulation, and a sense of accomplishment.

  2. Gardening tasks: Assign simple gardening tasks such as weeding, watering, or pruning to memory care patients. These activities encourage physical movement, coordination, and a connection with nature.

  3. Nature walks: Take memory care patients on guided nature walks around the garden to explore different plants, flowers, and wildlife. Encourage them to engage their senses by touching leaves, smelling flowers, and listening to the sounds of nature.

  4. Art and crafts: Incorporate art and crafts activities using natural materials found in the garden. Memory care patients can create flower arrangements, pressed flower art, or nature-inspired collages, fostering creativity and self-expression.

  5. Harvesting and cooking: If the garden includes edible plants, involve memory care patients in the process of harvesting and cooking with the fresh produce. This activity promotes a connection with food, sensory exploration, and a sense of accomplishment.


By incorporating these activities into daily or weekly memory care routines, caregivers can provide meaningful and stimulating experiences that enhance cognitive function, promote physical well-being, and improve overall quality of life for memory care patients.



Garden therapy resources for caregivers

Caregivers looking to incorporate garden therapy into memory care routines can benefit from various resources and organizations dedicated to horticultural therapy. Here are some valuable resources to consider:


  1. American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA): AHTA is a professional organization that provides resources, education, and networking opportunities for horticultural therapists and caregivers interested in garden therapy. Their website offers a wealth of information on horticultural therapy and its applications in memory care.

  2. Local botanical gardens or horticultural therapy programs: Many botanical gardens and horticultural therapy programs offer workshops, training sessions, and educational materials for caregivers. Reach out to these organizations to learn about available resources in your area.

  3. Online communities and forums: Join online communities and forums dedicated to garden therapy and memory care to connect with other caregivers and professionals in the field. These platforms provide a space for sharing experiences, asking questions, and accessing valuable resources.


By utilizing these resources, caregivers can stay informed about the latest research, techniques, and best practices in garden therapy, ensuring they provide the most effective and beneficial experiences for memory care patients.


Garden therapy programs and services can significantly improve the well-being and quality of life for memory care residents.

Case studies: The impact of garden therapy on memory care

Numerous case studies have demonstrated the positive impact of garden therapy on memory care patients. For example, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK found that gardening activities improved well-being, cognitive function, and social interaction in individuals with dementia. Another study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed that garden therapy reduced agitation, aggression, and symptoms of depression in memory care patients.


These case studies highlight the potential of garden therapy as a valuable and effective intervention for individuals with memory care needs. The positive outcomes observed in these studies provide further evidence of the importance of incorporating garden therapy into memory care routines.



Garden therapy programs and services for memory care facilities

Memory care facilities can benefit from implementing garden therapy programs and services to enhance the quality of care provided to their residents. These programs can be tailored to meet the specific needs and abilities of memory care patients and can be offered in various formats, such as individual or group sessions. Some memory care facilities may choose to partner with horticultural therapy professionals who can design and facilitate garden therapy programs, ensuring their effectiveness and safety.


Garden therapy programs and services can significantly improve the well-being and quality of life for memory care residents. They provide opportunities for cognitive stimulation, physical activity, social engagement, and a connection with nature. By incorporating garden therapy into their care models, memory care facilities can create a nurturing and therapeutic environment that promotes overall health and happiness for their residents.



The future of garden therapy in memory care

As the population of individuals with memory care needs continues to grow, the importance of finding effective and holistic interventions becomes paramount. Garden therapy has emerged as a promising approach that offers numerous benefits for memory care patients. Its ability to improve cognitive function, enhance emotional well-being, and promote physical health makes it a valuable tool for caregivers and memory care facilities.


By incorporating garden therapy into memory care routines, caregivers can provide meaningful and engaging experiences that enhance the quality of life for individuals with memory impairments. Furthermore, memory care facilities can implement garden therapy programs and services to create a therapeutic environment that supports the overall well-being of their residents.


As research and awareness of garden therapy continue to grow, it is expected that its integration into memory care will become more widespread. By embracing the potential of garden therapy, caregivers and memory care facilities can contribute to the well-being and happiness of individuals with memory care needs, creating a brighter future for those in their care.



CTA: If you are a caregiver or work in a memory care facility, consider exploring the benefits of garden therapy and incorporating it into your routines. By providing individuals with memory care needs with the therapeutic benefits of gardening, you can enhance their cognitive function, emotional well-being, and overall quality of life.




 

About the Author

Dr. Christopher Zambakari is the owner and operator of three Arizona-based assisted living care homes – Desert Haven Home Care in Phoenix, Apollo Residential Assisted Living in Glendale, and Villa Fiore Assisted Living in Prescott Valley, Arizona. He provides direction and oversight to a team of licensed medical and caregiving professionals to ensure the highest levels of customized care, service and advocacy at each of his facilities. Zambakari is founder and CEO of The Zambakari Advisory, an international consultancy in the areas of strategic intelligence, program design and transitional processes. He is a Hartley B. and Ruth B. Barker Endowed Rotary Peace Fellow, and the assistant editor of the Bulletin of The Sudans Studies Association.











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