herbgardenGardens in care homes could provide therapeutic benefits for people with dementia, a study has claimed.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, suggests that outdoor spaces can offer environments that promote relaxation, encourage activity and reduce residents’ agitation.

The systematic review, conducted by a team at the University of Exeter Medical School and supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC), also found that gardens could offer spaces for interactions with visitors, helping to stimulate memories for people with dementia and providing wellbeing opportunities for families and staff.

Lead researcher Rebecca Whear said "There is an increasing interest in improving dementia symptoms without the use of drugs. We think that gardens could be benefitting dementia sufferers by providing them with sensory stimulation and an environment that triggers memories. They not only present an opportunity to relax in a calming setting, but also to remember skills and habits that have brought enjoyment in the past."

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Almost half of older people living in residential care have dementia or dementia symptoms, a figure that increases to more than three-quarters in nursing homes. This study is said to be the first to highlight several factors that must be overcome if gardens are to be useful in the future care of people with dementia. These include understanding possible hazards that a garden might represent to residents, and ensuring staff have time to let residents enjoy an outdoor space to its full potential.

The findings coincide with the development of a new garden at Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust (RDE). RDE's acting consultant nurse for older people, Julie Vale, said: "We’ve long recognised the importance of therapeutic outside spaces for patients, particularly the frail elderly and those living with dementia.

"We’ve created the Trust’s very own Devon Garden to allow patients to come away from the clinical environment and experience nature. The garden design incorporates an innovative sound system, a telephone box with stories from Exeter and a safe, calming water feature. The Trust is delighted that the findings from the University of Exeter Medical School support the approach we’ve adopted in identifying new ways of improving care for patients with dementia."

For more information visit www.exeter.ac.uk/medicine