"I don’t think there really is such a thing as a casual gardener," said Rose Deskavich, an occupational therapist from Greenfield, MA. Deskavich has been developing methods for assisting people with various age-related aliments to be able to enjoy their gardening hobby – or passion. Deskavich offered a number of suggestions to aid the memory impaired with gardening, depending on how progressed the disease. "People have a strong tie to gardening. It’s a loss when you can’t do it physically or mentally," she said.
Gardening during the early stages of memory impairment
"The easiest and most adaptable way to work with someone who has memory limitations is to create lists and charts," said Deskavich. Deskavich said that a calendar can be created to designate days when watering, weeding or harvesting should be done. "Make lots of lists. The key is referring to the lists," said Deskavich.
Gardening as memory impairment increases
Deskavich said that as memory impairment increases it becomes essential to have a partner to assist with gardening. "You need to have someone to guide them, letting them know what needs to happen next," she said. The gardening partner goes over what needs to be done and stays with the person during the project.
"You can’t just tell someone (who is memory impaired) go over there and weed that portion of the garden. They won’t remember by the time they get there. Or they may stop along the way and begin pulling up the wrong thing," said Deskavich. She recommends the "mentor approach", sitting with the person and modeling what needs to be done. "You tell them, 'Do what I’m doing,'" she said.
Deskavich said that the gardening partner needs to be very consistent, giving step-by-step directions and being very specific. "For example, you might tell them to just pick the red vegetables."
Benefits of gardening for the memory impaired
Deskavich said that the over-all experience of gardening, the bright colors, having your hands in the dirt, the associated sounds and the strong smells trigger positive sensory experiences and memories. She said, "Even auditory things like having a wind chime in the garden are great sensory stimulation. Water fountains are also great and very soothing."
Deskavich added that gardening brings a sense of not only relaxation, but a sense of achievement. "They can look back at that tomato or carrot they grew and cared for and have a sense of accomplishment," she said.
Safety tips for gardening with the memory impaired
"You do have to watch people in terms of hydration or too much sun," said Deskavich. She added that it is also better to work on gardening projects in the morning or early part of the day. "People [with memory impairment] function better in the mornings. They are clearer and have more memories intact," said Deskavich.
Not to be overlooked: According to the Alzheimer’s Association, gardening is also an effective stress reducer for those who are caregivers for loved ones who have memory impairment.
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