Gardening is a great way to spend a nice sunny day (as long as it’s not too hot) and luckily it doesn’t rely on a whole lot of memory to enjoy. You can involve the person with memory loss as much or as little as they like/their cognition will allow. Someone in the early stages might enjoy the autonomy and creativity of planning a new garden bed and tending it by themselves. It might help to label each plant so they can help tell the plants from the weeds. It might not be bad idea to including watering information, too!
Those in the middle stages can help dig holes, plant seeds/starter plants, and water the plants. Weeding is another time-consuming, repetitive activity that can suit those in the middle stages of the disease quite well, just be sure to supervise to ensure that the garden’s plants are removed along with the weeds! Sitting and/or stooping can be hard on aging backs, but rolling lawn stool, such as the one below, can help ease the pain.
Those in the late stages might enjoy just sitting and enjoying the sights and sounds. Give them a plant or flower to smell and touch to stimulate their senses. Of course, if it’s a vegetable garden, don’t forget to give them a taste as well! And don’t forget to describe what you’re doing in the garden as you do it so they feel involved.
Finally, gardening is a great way to start reminiscing with a person with memory loss. You can ask about if they gardened in the past, and if so, what they liked to grow, what they had good luck with, what they never could get to grow, etc. You might ask if there family had a victory garden during the war, what types of flowers or vegetables are their favorite, etc. The possibilities really are limitless!
Common sense reminders:
1. Don’t forget sunscreen
2. Don’t forget to drink lots of fluids. Older adults are at greater risk of dehydration and those with dementia may not be able to sense or express a feeling of thirst.
3. Never leave someone at risk for wandering outside unsupervised
4. Make sure any gardening tasks aren’t too physically demanding for the individual (psst! They now make garden tools for those with arthritis/weak upper bodies. You can find these ergonomic tools at most garden centers or online, just search “garden tools for arthritis.” But be warned, because they may look different from a normal garden tool, the person with memory loss may have more difficulty using them than a more familiar-looking version of the same tool.)
5. Have fun!