Seeing the benefits of gardens to people with dementia

Lanhydrock House, National Trust, Cornwall.

Ray Liles, Sensory Development Manager, Cornwall Care

Clients and staff from Cornwall Care were invited by the Sensory Trust to participate in this session held at Lanhydrock House. Along with staff from the National Trust, staff from the Sensory Trust led the day with various sessions using engagement techniques which were user-led and activity-based. Using non-written engagement skills such as pictorial symbols and verbal and sensory responses was paced just right for some of our clients who are living with dementia related conditions, as it enabled them to comfortably participate in the sessions without any undue pressure.

As the sensory development manager for Cornwall Care I felt overwhelmed by the participation and responses that our clients gave on the day, as did my colleagues. Clients whose communication abilities have been affected by dementia, seemed to find a real “voice”. T he activities really awakened something inside them, and to see clients talking passionately about what was important to them in gardens or outdoor spaces and recalling memories of really valued people, things and places was truly inspirational.

Making collages at the consultation day

The afternoon session where clients created a collage of their ideal garden/outdoor space was truly amazing to witness, our clients again really gave it great thought when creating these masterpieces and when given the opportunity to discuss with the group why they had chosen particular items, it was a wonderful opportunity for us as staff to grasp what our clients want to see in the outdoor spaces of their homes, what inspires them, what makes the space purposeful, and what can make their gardens wonderful independent places to be.

As a staff team we have taken so much important information from the day, which we will use in our continuing programme of garden updating, it has given us a gentle reminder that the most important thing about designing a garden is to remember who you are designing it for and what do they want from this space rather than what do we want as a care provider.

Since then the session staff have reported that the clients who attended frequently recall the session with passion and interest and are actively involved with the redesigning of the gardens where they live. Clients' families have also reported to staff that it is great to see their relatives interest reawakened. This was evident from the follow up day which was completed at Mountford House in Truro, where all the participants of the day met for a follow up session. The clients very easily recalled the original session with vigour.

The wellbeing of the clients involved in the consultation has increased significantly with the renewed interest and we thank the Sensory trust for enabling us to be part of this wonderful worthwhile project.

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