Gardens can be an effective treatment to help dementia sufferers – and you'll find no more ardent advocate than Glenys Holden, of Radius St Joan's in Hamilton.
She has spearheaded the ongoing formation of a new sensory garden at the hospital-rest home in Fairfield – a garden already showing signs of proving the points therapists have been making for some time: that sensory gardens benefit patients, families and can have good clinical outcomes.
A diversional therapist at St Joans, where she has worked for 26 years, Holden jokes, "I'm just about ready to be a patient", but her garden is a living example of how modern care for dementia (and other) patients is returning to some basic roots.
One of the foremost proponents of sensory gardens as a health benefit is Dr Roger S. Ulrich, formerly of the University of Texas and latterly at the Centre For Health Design at Chalmers University in Sweden. Studies Ulrich has done – and others he has reviewed – make a compelling case for gardens to be incorporated far more into healthcare buildings.
Those studies have shown a remarkable effect on patients exposed to natural settings, such as a garden, compared to those only exposed to the more sterile environments of clinics and hospitals.
One of Ulrich's reviews says: "Findings from several studies have converged in indicating that simply viewing certain types of nature and garden scenes significantly ameliorates stress within only five minutes or less. Further, a limited amount of research has found that viewing nature for longer periods not only helps to calm patients, but can also foster improvement in clinical outcomes - such as reducing pain medication intake and shortening hospital stays."
According to Britain's Alzheimer's Society: "Exercising in the garden helps develop the appetite, boosts energy levels and promotes a better night's sleep, maintaining, as far as possible, existing skills that give pleasure and confidence."
Residents who spend time gardening have benefited from:
- Direct sunlight (increasing bone density, improving sleep cycles and moods).<br/>
- Lower levels of agitation and aggression.<br/>
- Decreased isolation and aggression.<br/>
- Better orientation to place and time and a temporary distraction from fixations<br/>
- A sense of ownership and community.<br/>
- Improved social interactions.<br/>
Holden's garden is still taking shape but has already resulted in literally bringing more sunshine into the lives of patients and families: "Think of all that Vitamin D they are getting," she says.
But the light she and her colleagues are shining on a new method of treatment for residents goes deeper than that – and has taken a big effort in terms of fundraising and changing the layout of Radius St Joan's.
"We had an area that simply wasn't being used," says Holden. "It was blocked off by the building design; no one could get to it. So we had to move a window and make a door and create a path where wheelchairs could go.'
It took $23,000 of fundraising - $12,000 of it from three cake auctions – to achieve the concreting and the landscaping, including raising the eight big garden boxes to wheelchair heights so the occupants of said chairs can tend their gardens. Holden says they also received much support from several local companies, residents, staff, families and friends of St Joans.
The garden accommodates its own bowling green – laid with former hockey turf donated by St Paul's Collegiate – on which Holden says the residents get "very, very competitive".
So far, two of the garden boxes have been given over to flowers and Holden thinks some of the rest will be given over to herbs and/or vegetables: "It's up to the residents," she says. "This is their home – it's not a hospital or a clinical area to them; it's where they live and we want them to shape it."
The garden is also a boon for families, many of whom are happy with the effect of the garden on their loved ones. After decades of sterile buildings designed to reduce the risk of infection, many hospitals and other healthcare facilities are going back hundreds of years to when Western and Asian cultures built gardens into their plans to aid wellbeing.
Ulrich again, in a review: "Evidence from studies of a number of different hospitals and diverse categories of patients…strongly suggests that the presence of nature - indoor and outdoor gardens, plants, window views of nature - increases both patient and family satisfaction."
Holden says she has already seen the effect on family members, some of whom now say things like: 'Mum, you love sunflowers; why don't we bring some and you plant them?"
Now Holden says she is also hoping for a gazebo in the garden to provide shade and says she hopes the Radius creed of "Exceptional care, exceptional people" prompts Radius founder, Brian Cree, to help with that.
"He's a great boss and he is a family man and he understands really well that families can be absolutely distraught and need somewhere to go which is peaceful, quiet, and meditative – and that's what this garden is doing."
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