Gardening and being out in nature has so many therapeutic benefits for our bodies and minds.
Working in a garden is a great way to get out in the fresh air and sunshine (all that vitamin D!). Digging, weeding, and planting provide physical activity and that also has a positive impact on our overall health.
But, does gardening help with memory loss? Studies have shown that spending time in nature, including gardening, can help to improve cognitive function and memory recall.
Gardening can also help to reduce stress levels, which can impact memory negatively. In addition, the act of gardening itself can help to stimulate the mind and promote mental activity, both of which are important for maintaining a healthy memory.
Gardening has been shown to offer a number of benefits for cognitive function, memory recall, and stress reduction and it may be a helpful activity for those struggling with memory loss.
Keep reading to find out more about how gardening and horticultural therapy can help someone who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Is Gardening Good for the Brain?
My 96-year-old aunt still gets out in her garden on an almost daily basis (I swear this is partly why she is still so spry, not to mention as sharp as a whip). She has told me that she misses it if she can’t get out there for some reason.
Like her, many older adults have gardened all their lives.
They do it because they enjoy physical exercise and they like the health benefits that come from eating the produce harvested from their own fruit or vegetable garden.
For myself, I enjoy bringing the outside indoors and arranging the colorful blooms of my garden flowers in vases throughout the house.
It makes sense that the physical activities that are carried out during planting and cultivating a garden would provide aerobic exercise, which would help the body.
But why would digging around in the dirt be good for your brain?
Well, it turns out that there are several brain benefits of gardening:
- For one thing, it gets you outdoors and into the fresh air, which can do wonders for your energy and mood. It can also reduce anxiety and provide a more positive outlook on life.
- Gardening allows individuals to get some exercise, which is beneficial for overall health and has been linked with improved cognitive function.
- Being in nature has also been shown to reduce stress levels, and improve attention span and cognitive function. For example, one study found that elderly participants who gardened for just one 20-minute session had better memory recall than those who didn’t garden. Another study showed that people who gardened had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than those who didn’t.
- Gardening also requires you to use a variety of different skills, from planning and problem-solving to boosting motor skills and fine motor control.
- Working with your hands and interacting with plants can be calming and meditative, helping to clear the mind and focus attention.
- The act of gardening itself can help to stimulate the mind and promote mental activity, both of which are important for maintaining a healthy memory.
- Gardening can also provide an opportunity for social interaction. This can be helpful for people who are experiencing memory loss, as interacting with others can help to stimulate the mind and keep memories fresh.
- Gardening can provide a sense of purpose and satisfaction, which can be helpful with memory loss.
- Spending time outdoors in nature has been shown to improve sleep quality, and adequate sleep is essential for maintaining a healthy memory.
- And unlike some activities, gardening is never repetitive or boring – there’s always something new to learn or something new to try.
Overall, gardening can help to improve cognitive function and memory recall, while also reducing stress levels and boosting mood.
Regular gardening can be a beneficial activity for those dealing with memory loss or concerns about cognitive decline. So go ahead and get your hands dirty. Your brain will thank you for it!
Does Gardening Reduce Dementia?
As I’ve been saying, gardening has been shown to have a number of benefits for cognitive function and memory recall.
Horticultural therapy may also help stabilize the decline of cognitive function in those with Alzheimer’s disease, according to researchers.
The purpose of this study was to determine if horticultural therapy would delay cognitive deterioration among individuals with Alzheimer’s disease living in an urban nursing home. Of 40 randomly selected individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, 20 were randomly selected to attend horticultural therapy sessions twice weekly for 12 weeks and 20 served as a control group. Thirty-eight participants completed the study. At the end of 12 weeks, the horticultural therapy group had an overall higher functional level than the control group.D’Andrea, et al, Journal of Therapeutic Horticulture
Furthermore, garden experiences can help dementia patients with more than just memory.
In a 2021 systematic review of studies regarding gardening/horticulture therapy and dementia, researchers found that “In all but two of the studies examined, gardening therapy and the use of therapeutic gardens induced psychophysiological improvements in PWD [persons with dementia]. The areas showing the greatest effects were Engagement, Agitation, Depression/Mood, Stress, and Medication.“
There are a few possible explanations for why gardening may help with dementia.
First, if you have ever worked in a garden, you know that it is typically a physical activity. Research has shown that regular physical activity can help to improve cognitive function.
Additionally, gardening involves working with plants and soil, which can provide stimulating sensory input that can help to keep the brain active and engaged.
Then, the act of gardening itself can be therapeutic and calming, which can help to reduce stress levels and improve overall well-being.
Finally, gardening can help to create a calming and relaxing environment, which can be helpful for people with dementia who experience anxiety or agitation.
If you or a loved one is experiencing memory loss, gardening may be a helpful activity to try. However, it is important to consult with a doctor or other healthcare professional before starting any new activity, especially if there are concerns about safety issues.
This is because some seniors may be more susceptible to injury than others. For example, older adults who have osteoporosis may be at risk for fractures if they fall while gardening.
Also, seniors are more susceptible to dehydration than younger adults, so try to stay hydrated while gardening.
If it is hot outside, it is best to get out in the garden in the early morning or early evening (before dusk) so there is less chance of overheating in the summer weather.
Wear sunscreen and protective clothing, as seniors are more susceptible to skin cancer.
Finally, it is important to have someone either with the person or very close by when they are gardening, in case of an emergency
There are a few things that you can do to help make gardening more effective for someone with memory loss.
- First, try to have them garden with you or someone else so that they can socialize and interact while they work.
- Second, try to keep them focused on simple tasks such as watering plants or picking vegetables so that they don’t become overwhelmed.
- Finally, have them take breaks often so they don’t become too tired.
How Do You Make a Sensory Garden?
A sensory garden (they’re also known as dementia gardens) is a space that has been designed to stimulate the senses, including sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste.
Sensory gardens can be beneficial for people of all ages, but they can be particularly helpful for those who suffer from memory loss or other cognitive impairments.
There are many different ways to design a sensory garden, but some common features include using fragrant plants, brightly colored flowers, plants with a texture (such as lamb’s ear), and setting up water features.
Sound can also be incorporated into a sensory garden with the use of wind chimes or bird baths.
For the most sensory stimulation, choose plants with different textures, colors, and scents.
Consider adding lavender, which has a calming effect, or rosemary, which is known to boost memory.
Incorporate winding paths and seating areas so that people can take their time enjoying the garden.
Add bird feeders and bird baths to attract feathered friends, and include a water feature for the soothing sound of trickling water.
Even if your family member doesn’t have access to an outdoor space for sprawling flower beds and full-fledged water features, you can create container gardens on a patio or even an apartment balcony.
Use a stackable garden planter for indoor plants or a hydroponic garden with grow lights. You can even set up something as simple as a planter box to give a loved one with a green thumb a sensory experience.
If your loved one enjoys gardening, a garden stool may be an appropriate item for them to sit down and enjoy their dementia garden.