Dementia-friendly environments: Gardens

The importance of outdoor spaces

As well as giving exposure to natural light (which provides vitamin D, so important to good health), a garden or outdoor space provides a place for familiar activities such as digging or cutting grass or hanging out the washing, and a place for exercise. A garden also offers a unique opportunity to provide a feast for the senses. Fragrant and vibrantly coloured plants and shrubs can provide excellent sensory stimulation.

A garden provides a place for familiar activities such as digging or cutting grass or hanging out the washing, and a place for exercise.

Mood and behaviour

For people with dementia who walk a lot, time spent in gardens can help them relax and feel calm. People with dementia will generally be less likely to become agitated and distressed if they can have regular access to fresh air and exercise and a quiet space away from others (for more on this, see the Aggressive behaviour feature in Behavioural challenges section.) 

Layout

The garden should be easy to find from inside – furniture shouldn’t block the view of the garden or the pathway to it. A garden needs to be a safe and secure environment with barrier-free access and no steep levels. It needs to be a space that takes account of a range of sensory and mobility problems, but does not make people feel imprisoned.

Planting can help by softening the appearance of walls and fencing. Avoid poisonous plants. If possible provide seating both close to and away from the building to encourage movement and to offer a place for conversation, quiet reflection and enjoyment of the changing seasons.

Paths

Paths should lead back to the point where they began and avoid sudden changes of direction or dead ends. They should be wide enough for two people to walk along together. Usually loose gravel and bark are not appropriate for people to walk on because they can be difficult to negotiate.

Provide resting and sitting areas along the path for people with limited mobility. These should have enough space for a solid bench and wheelchair and be sheltered from the sun and wind. A patio can provide a sheltered sitting area. Manhole covers provide a visual barrier for many people with dementia – they may see them and think they are a hole. Ensure the path avoids patterns and significant contrasts that the person might perceive as an obstacle to step over. 

Extra features

Create an interesting outlook with a bird table, water feature or decorative planter. Plants in these areas with special characteristics (fragrance, colour, sound or touch) can stimulate senses, spark memories of gardening hobbies and encourage conversation. The design of the garden can encourage wildlife. Pet animals such as rabbits in an enclosed run could add interest. A few chickens would provide activities such as egg collection or feeding and changing the water.

Versatile outdoor space can provide opportunities for games, barbecues and other events, all providing meaningful activity and valuable exercise. Rest and recreation areas should be visible from the home to ensure people are safe while enjoying themselves but, in the case of care settings, not

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