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Special-needs gardens for Alzheimer's residents. (Cover Feature).

As dementia takes how gardens can play a critical role in maintaining residents quality of life and activity. Our senses of sight touch smell taste and hearing are powerful forces. They are our passport to events that have occurred throughout our lives Listening to the sound of a bird's song in the spring makes me think about the warm summer months ahead. The turning leaves in the fall remind me of trips with my parents antiquing throughout New England. The sight and smell of a fresh out rose from my grand father's rose garden brings back wonderful memories of how special a person he was I mention him here because he has been my inspiration for what I am doing today. What are your memories.

Our memories make us who we are. They are our link to the past. One of the ways we can help individuals with Alzheimer's disease or other dementia-related illnesses remain connected with themselves is through the senses. Creating a special-needs garden, an outdoor area that is filled with elements that stimulate the senses, is a wonderful way to accomplish this goal.

The creation of a special-needs garden consists of several components. Access into and through the garden is one very important consideration. The pathways in the garden should be smooth and level surfaces, without any steps or steep changes in grade. If a ramp is necessary, a slope of one foot in height for every 12 feet in length is the maximum permitted for handicap access. The pavement or other surfaces should not cause glare, as older adults' eyes take longer to adjust to bright light than do those of younger people. (They might not tell you that the glare makes it difficult to see, and the garden might go unused for that very reason.)

Visual cues can assist a person in finding his way around the garden and back into the building. Colorful flags or banners hung by a door can identify the entrance. The entrance area can be a good place for a water fountain or a bench. In general, doorways are a focal point of activity and provide an opportunity for socialization.

Areas in which to socialize should be created within the garden. Benches and tables could be located throughout. Seating areas should be located in both the sun and the shade to give people a variety of options, depending on the time of day and the season. Benches and chairs need to be arranged at 90-degree angles to each other, making it easier for people to face one another and thus helping stimulate conversation. A patio area with groupings of tables and chairs is wonderful for group activities.

Another important aspect of any garden is safety and security. A fence or a building wall that surrounds the garden should be used to enclose the space. A fence that is six to eight feet tall and not easy to climb is preferable. An open fence that one is able to see through can be desirable when the garden overlooks a natural scenic area. A solid fence is preferable when the garden faces an active parking lot or roadway.

Plants create seasonal interest. Falling leaves remind us that winter is coming, just as a crocus emerging from the last snow of the season tells us that spring is not far away. Plants that attract birds and butterflies, such as monarda, lobelia and buddleia, should be part of every garden. Herbs should line the walkways so that the plants can be touched and so it is easy to smell their fragrances. Basil, rosemary and lavender are a few of the herbs that have wonderfully distinct smells. The plants in a dementia garden should be nontoxic, so that a person does not ingest something that could be harmful.

Birdbaths, wind chimes and other garden accessories can stimulate the senses and can cause a person to remember an event or emotion. Other objects found in someone's backyard might include a little red wagon, bicycle or a hand pump from a well.

People spend an inordinate amount of time and money on maintaining a lawn, but it is easy to understand why. Many people can relate to grass, as it can bring back memories of lazy summer afternoons. The mere sight of a red and white gingham tablecloth and a picnic basket would make anyone smile. Think about all of the games, such as golf and croquet that are played on a stretch of natural, green "carpet."

Children are an important component of any garden. Incorporating intergenerational activities can make a garden area exciting. Many older adults have had a great deal of experience gardening and would enjoy working with younger people to pot a plant or start seeds in a seed tray. Simply watching children play on the lawn can be a delightful source of entertainment.

Former "chores" and daily activities can be continued within the garden. I remember my mother spending many hours hanging the laundry outside on a clothesline. While we might not want people to hang all of their clothes outside, hand towels and other simple items can be set out to dry. This is not only an activity but a visual cue to a past event to which many people can relate. A broom to sweep the walk is a source of "work" for the resident for many hours. Raking leaves from the lawn in the fall brings back many memories of building leaf piles and jumping into them.

At facilities where creating a separate garden isn't feasible, a small concrete patio or a rooftop area can be designed for horticultural activities, with raised planters for gardening. Shaded areas as well as sunny areas can all be designed to allow people to enjoy the garden. It is important to provide ready access to nature and to allow people to continue to enjoy the things they have done outside throughout their lives.

Flowers, birds, butterflies, the sound of water, a cool summer breeze, the warm winter sun, the softness of grass under bare feet-all of these are necessary elements of a garden for people with dementia. The garden should reflect all of the love and care that we bring to their lives daily. NH

Jack Carman, ASLA, is president of Design for Generations. He is a landscape architect specializing in the development of the exterior environment of senior residences. He can be reached at (609) g53-5881 or by e-mail at
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Author:Carman, Jack
Publication:Nursing Homes
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Previous Article:Universal design: for aging in place. (Cover Feature).
Next Article:Residents reaching out. (Not-For-Profit Report).

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