A few days ago I was up with the birds and on the 07:30am train to Kent to meet with Learning through Landscapes, who are working with Groundwork on a £1.3million dementia garden programme, funded by the Big Lottery Fund.
It may have been an early start, but fuelled by a couple of cups of caffeine I was raring to go and having never seen a dementia garden, curious about what made them unique.
Before I set off I looked at the research concerning dementia. A recent report by the Sue Ryder charity found people felt dementia was ‘scarier than cancer’, with 45% of those surveyed fearing getting a neurological disease over any other, compared with only 36% saying cancer scares them the most.
Yet funding for dementia research lags some way behind other forms of research. A 2015 study by Oxford University found that ‘dementia research gets 13 times less funding than cancer’ – despite dementia costing Britain £11 billion a year – more than double that of cancer.
It’s important to recognise that the benefit that dementia gardens have on individuals is paramount. A study published by Natural England reports found that involvement in nature-based activities can have a positive impact on reducing stress, anxiety and depression as well as improving dementia-related symptoms.
So armed with a few facts and figures I got on my train to visit Groundwork projects geared up to tackle the problem head on.
A green canvas of possibility
My first visit on my whistle-stop tour of Kent was the Goodman Centre in Bearsted that provides a day centre service for elderly people living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Around a third of the 800,000 people in the UK with dementia live in a care home, with many more accessing day services such as the Goodman Centre with the figure of people living with dementia expected to rise to 1 million by 2025.
Funding from the Big Lottery Fund programme combined with Tesco a 'Bags of Help' grant meant that the garden was getting a revamp, complete with raised vegetable beds, a sensory water feature, bright flowers and herb wall.
While I was there I talked to Matt, the centre manager, who explained how vital the garden was to clients. Having worked in the care industry for over 20 years, he believed it was crucial that people living with dementia not only had regular outside access but access to green spaces that helped to trigger memories via different smells and sights, helping to keep the brain active and promoting physical activity with the help of the plants and raised vegetable beds.
As part of keeping clients as involved as possible with the project, instead of simply installing ‘any old garden’, the Goodman Centre had also engaged clients on the development of the garden to see what features they wanted. One of the walls in the centre was plastered with pictures of flowers, animals and other features to make the garden a space that everyone could enjoy.
During lunch, I spoke to one of the clients, Doreen, who had visited the centre twice a week since her husband died. I soon learnt that Doreen was a keen gardener herself as she told me tales of the various gardens she has tended over the years. She had me in stitches as she told me the story of when she decided to 'spur of the moment' dig a pond in the garden – much to the surprise of her husband when he came home from work. I made a mental note to try that one with my own hubby!
Tried and tested approach
Our second visit was in Herne Bay where an established dementia garden had been created in another Alzheimer’s day centre. As the centre is near the coast, the space had been designed to mimic a 'beach' setting, complete with blue and white striped beach hut to help bring back memories of the past. The garden also had a pear tree and bird feeders to attract wildlife and a beautiful array of plants and trees, to look both beautiful and provide sensory triggers such as the smell of lavender.
Seeing the brilliance of the Herne Bay garden made the blank canvas of the Goodman Centre garden even more exciting. Knowing the good it would bring to clients who use the space was awe-inspiring.
I can't wait for Doreen and co to get their revamped space - it's going to be awesome.
Post by Stacey Aplin - PR and Communications Officer