Community gardening and dementia

People living with dementia face many challenges, and one is simply getting access to fresh air. This is especially true for people living in residential aged care facilities, where unfortunately too often activities are indoors, for many different reasons.

We know that gardens and natural environments can be enormously therapeutic spaces. For people with dementia, gardens are not only beautiful spaces in which to sit and watch, they can offer so much more: opportunities for exercise, socialising, cooking, reminiscing, intergenerational activities, and sensory stimulation.

Is it risky taking people with dementia into a garden environment? An important approach in supporting people with dementia is called ‘dignity of risk’. If we accept that all of life involves some level of risk, then to be human is to take risks – and there is a dignity about giving people with dementia this freedom and opportunity.

Community gardening can put the dignity of risk approach into practice. It accepts that yes, while there is some level of risk involved in supporting people with dementia to go into the garden, it is a risk worth taking. The gains are too substantial and significant to be ignored.

Below is the Companion Planting Guide full length video

Our story

Since it began in 2016, DIGnity Supported Community Gardening has offered a therapeutic outdoor environment for community members with physical or mental disabilities, cognitive constraints, and people who are socially isolated due to grief, chronic conditions or other reasons.

Over that time, we have watched how different people have enjoyed and taken comfort from being in the garden. Interactions are informal and respectful. As Nella, one of the DIGnity participants says, “Ideas are valued in this kind of set up”.

This guide has been developed jointly with participants in the DIGnity gardening groups, including people who are living with dementia. People shared all sorts of ideas for how to make supported gardening groups a success for people with dementia: from food growing tips to shelter and seating suggestions. Their hints are in the resources.

We have enjoyed our learning along the way and are keen to share it with others. While our suggestions are not definitive or exhaustive, we hope this guide will help show other community gardens how to become more dementia-inclusive.

Author: c55