Garden Therapy for Memory Care Residents

Rolla Presbyterian ManorThe perfume of blooming flowers. The feel of rich soil. The warmth of the sun. The sight of bright colors and deep greenery.

Gardening is a multisensory experience for everyone, but for people living with dementia, it’s also therapy. Gardens cultivate soothing memories and serenity for residents in memory care, like those at Rolla Presbyterian Manor’s Tranquility House.

This spring, Tranquility House residents have been busy prepping and planting their two raised garden beds — one for flowers, the other for vegetables. They also grow a few more plants in containers year-round, said Joy Parker, activities assistant.

“One of biggest therapeutic things for dementia is to have the same activity every day, around same time of day,” Parker said. “It’s something they look forward to.”

One resident’s routine is to water the flowers every day, Parker said. Her daughters brought her flowers this spring, then planted them with her. Others make a habit of sweeping the paths or deadheading the old blooms, so new ones can grow. They harvest vegetables from the other raised bed to use in their own meals.

In summer, it’s common to find residents snapping beans and baking pies. Residents who raise vegetables at Presbyterian Manor even bring their beans to Tranquility House for the women to snap because they enjoy it, Parker said. Many of the six residents of Tranquility House — all women — have gardened most of their lives, Parker said. Even the sight of growing plants provides moments of joy.

“There was a lady who didn’t talk much,” Parker said. “But every morning after breakfast, if she saw a ripe tomato, she would get so excited. If she saw flowers on the vines, she’d say, ‘The tomatoes are coming, tomatoes are coming!’”

Another resident is charmed by pink flowers in particular. “When they go sit on the patio and they see color, it’s calming to them,” Parker added.

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in England last year reviewed multiple studies that showed gardens lower stress and blood pressure among older adults, and reduce agitation and aggressive behavior among people with dementia. Just one visit to the Tranquility House gardens shows outdoor spaces are healing places.