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The great outdoors can provide dementia sufferers with a space for activity or peaceful sanctuary. Gavin O’Hare Connolly, Operations Director at Priory Adult Care (formerly Amore Care), recently spoke to magazine ‘Tomorrows Care’ explaining  how each of our care homes specifically craft their gardens.

Giving Back Control

“Gardens have always been associated with healing and rejuvenation. As an oasis of calm and tranquillity, they are ideal places to help those with dementia lead more fulfilling lives. Specifically, they can help combat depression by giving people a sense of control over their lives, reinvigorate memory, and provide them with a space to exercise and relax in the open air.

We passionately believe that the environment is more than just a place to live – it plays a pivotal role in improving quality of life.

This passion is shared by the company’s directors, as well as external experts. Priory Adult Care's (formerly Amore Care) training programme, ‘Creative Minds’, which aims to promote best practice in dementia care, was awarded accreditation from the University of Brighton in 2014.

What's the aim?

“Residents derive real calm and serenity from having access to an open and safe environment.”

The ultimate aim is to ensure that surroundings enhance the daily lives and mental wellbeing of adults diagnosed with dementia, leading to more personalised care delivery. We have sought to enhance the aesthetic qualities of our facilities in everything we do.

The power of the great outdoors cannot be underestimated. Contact with green space can have a dramatic impact on mood and health, reducing blood pressure and muscle tension. The simple sound of birdsong or the rustling of wind through trees is said to reduce stress.

Dementia: The facts

Increasing numbers of people diagnosed with conditions like Alzheimer’s will ensure that dementia remains one of the key concerns of the care home industry for decades to come. Government initiatives, including the Prime Minister’s ‘Dementia Challenge’, are based on estimates that say there are 800,000 people in the UK with dementia. An ageing demographic will see this number double over the next 30 years.

In facing up to these unprecented challenges, we believe in a distinctive shift in the way we talk, think and act on dementia, to help transform the lives of our service users, and create a model that others will emulate.

Maintaining a dementia-friendly garden is one very important way in which providers can extend their dementia care vision and help adults with memory loss live more active and stimulating lives.

The real benefits of dementia gardens

In short, gardens can help combat the effects of declining cognitive ability, while promoting self-worth, a social identity, and exercise – doffing, sowing, planting, sweeping, mowing and walking. Gardening also helps maintain fine motor skills that may decline otherwise.

One Priory Adult Care (formerly Amore Care) home that has been focusing on this vital element of care is Bannview House in Northern Ireland, which spent every day last summer engaging residents in gardening activities. It culminated in the home being highly commended in the UK’s coveted ‘Best Kept Residential Facility 2014’ awards.

“Our vision is to see that all our care homes offer ‘dementia  gardens’ for those diagnosed with dementia to visit and use at their leisure..."

The garden was adapted to meet the needs of residents and the initiative involved local tradesmen, relatives and community volunteers – encompassing a true sense of community. Our vision is to see that all our care homes offer ‘dementia gardens’ for those diagnosed with dementia to visit and use at their leisure, as a way of reaching out to dementia sufferers who might otherwise become isolated.

Some local authorities, such as York, Newcastle and Motherwell, have made it their mission to lead the way in supporting adults with dementia. They are all attempting to become the UK’s first dementia-friendly cities. But at Priory Adult Care (formerly Amore Care), we realised care homes did not have to wait for national or local initiatives to lead the way, achieving several local and national awards across the group throughout 2014.

Looking ahead...

In line with our ‘Creative Minds’ strategy we were thrilled to see the rise in demand and enthusiasm for the dementia garden, but we saw the ‘touch ‘ and ‘smell’ element as only a small factor in the overall aim. The gardens need investment, a factor which has been recognised across all 43 homes this year, to ensure we have spaces to meet the needs of our residents, planters at the correct level, colours receptive to our residents and specific layouts which take into account sensory and cognitive decline. In coordinating the design of our dementia gardens, there are many questions we have had to consider, through a thorough and empathetic understanding of the condition. We ask every person using our potential spaces: Can you get out? Can you self-organise? Do you feel safe? Can you recognise the door to get back in? Gardens must also be designed so they help staff work to their maximum capabilities and work for families who are visiting.

Priory Adult Care (formerly Amore Care) has engaged a range of designers and dementia experts in the design of our dementia gardens, with lessons learnt at every stage. For example, glass doors are not suitable for our residents, and continual pathways – without a break in colour – work best for those with dementia.

Home manager Karen McElherron of Carlingford Lodge care home in County Down, Northern Ireland, has recently been involved in the design of a beautiful cafe and adjoining dementia garden. She described the process: “The welfare and wellbeing of our residents is of ultimate importance and we are delighted that dementia residents have the opportunity to enjoy the specifically- designed and safe environment of the dementia garden.

“The welfare and wellbeing of our residents is of ultimate importance and we are delighted that dementia residents have the opportunity to enjoy the specifically- designed and safe environment of the dementia garden.”

“It provides a therapeutic environment for our residents to address some of the challenges associated with dementia, namely the loss of memory, independence, initiative and the ability to participate in social activities in a meaningful and focused manner.

“As memory and cognitive functions decline, our residents function more on a sensory level. The redeveloped dementia garden gives them the opportunity to hear and experience sounds and smells of the garden through trellis features and plants, as well as enabling those who are able to become actively involved in gardening.”

She added: “Dementia requires stimulation of activity, which can come in many ways. The physical action of gardening is suitable for many of our residents, whilst other residents like to sit and relax in the garden in a more passive way.

“ Divided into two sections, the garden features many different aspects laid out in a format that is easy to understand – with key areas and mapping points that can be easily remembered such as seats, shady locations and simple walkways.”

The benefits of dementia gardens to our service users and community members are plentiful. To see our residents enjoy the garden, from the smells and textures to planting seeds and following them to fruition, can bring joy all around.

During the summer, our residents enjoy sitting outside with family and friends or simply tending to their projects in the garden. Raised planting beds allow people of all abilities to meaningfully engage in a focused and highly enjoyable activity.

I passionately believe that Priory Adult Care (formerly Amore Care) dementia gardens stimulate every sense. There should be a variety of sights, smells, textures and even tastes. We have incorporated each of these themes into our dementia gardens. Through engaging with local experts, we have chosen non-toxic plants to ensure that those who are tempted by the gorgeous blooming flowers are not harmed should they wish to give them a taste.

Gardens should provide an atmosphere of serenity that provide an escape, with opportunities for multiple stimulation away from the constraints of a dementia diagnosis.

For more information on the specialist services Priory Adult Care can offer, please call the enquiries and referrals team on 0808 208 2147 or click here to make an enquiry.