“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” – Audrey Hepburn

My husband Collins introduced me to gardening. Over the past 20 years we have lived in our home in Bluffton, we have transformed our yard into a beautiful sanctuary. Gardening is something we are passionate about and something we love doing together.

Gardening also gives me time to think and offers me a sense of calmness unlike anything else. My senses come to life with the smell of gardenias, roses and ginger. The birds sing sweet songs and the insects chatter.

Each and every day I work in my yard is different and rewarding. Recently when I was gardening, I was thinking about the families I work with at Memory Matters and how gardening could help them. I did some research and found many benefits that caregivers and their loved ones with dementia could enjoy together.

The most important thing to remember is to start small. Find an area in your yard that offers some sun and shade, a place for a bird feeder and bird bath, and maybe plants that attract butterflies. You might ask a gardener friend to help you get started.

Alzheimer’s dementia symptoms include reduced memory and intellectual functions, visual impairments, loss of language skills, difficulty with logic and decision making, and more. The disease is a prison of sorts. It takes away its hosts’ independence.

Gardening is an inexpensive, effective, non-pharmacological intervention that can reduce dementia symptoms and improve the quality of life of Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers. According to The 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.”

Dementia patients who spend time gardening have benefitted from:

• Lower levels of agitation and aggression

• Better orientation to place and time and a temporary distraction from fixations

• Playing the role of caregiver for garden plants and wildlife; a sense of ownership

• Increased attention span

• Higher maintenance of cognitive skills and interests. In some cases, the ability to learn or regain lost skills

• Increased brain volume and gray matter

• Great exercise for the mind and body

These are just a few of the benefits that can be gained. Some suggestions to help keep your loved one safe are:

• Do not give them any sharp objects to use

• Ensure all plants are non-toxic

• Use sunscreen and wear a hat

• Stay hydrated

• Garden in the morning when it is not so hot

• Keep it fun and light-hearted

I hope you, too, will find gardening with a loved one to be a relaxing and enjoyable experience.

Karen Doughtie is senior program director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. karen@memory-matters.org; mymemorymatters.org