Dear Karen,

I was told by a friend that gardening has a positive effect on those with dementia. If true, what is the best way to get started with this activity?

Dear Reader,

Your friend is absolutely correct! A number of studies have found gardening to be an activity that generates physical, mental and emotional health. The first step is getting out in the fresh air – this alone improves your general mood and health. Sunshine is a good source of vitamin D, and it also increases the serotonin levels in your brain. Serotonin is the chemical that makes you feel calm and elevates your mood.

Gardening is a light exercise that can actually slow down the aging process. If your person has the ability to stand and kneel, include some stretching and deep breathing before and after this activity. Don’t rule out gardening if your loved needs to stay seated or can’t kneel, as there are plenty of choices on the market for elevated flower beds. These are specifically made for folks to garden whether they are standing, sitting in a chair or wheelchair.

Seniors that tend their garden regularly may lower their risk of dementia because they are practicing critical thinking, motor skills, dexterity and sensory awareness. According to two Growing Health studies, the first reported that horticultural activities increased memory skills, wellness and an overall higher functioning. The second study showed that outdoor activity groups experienced less agitation and improved sleep patterns.

High levels of cortisol, a bodily hormone, may cause a rise in blood and glucose levels. Conversely, cortisol levels are lowered by light exercise and are able to deliver a great benefit to the body. Thus, this hormone is widely known for its stress relieving powers, and gardening has equally earned the label of an anxiety and stress relieving activity.

Believe it or not, digging in the dirt also has benefits. Studies have shown that a friendly bacterium in garden soil can improve your immune system and relieve symptoms of depression, allergy and asthma.

So, yes, it is true, basking in the beauty of your garden, planting and even weeding can improve quality of life for aging adults. Memory loss and other caregivers are faced with many difficult challenges. Their taking on the role of a garden caregivers can reduce their stress levels and add a calming activity to enjoy with their loved ones. Put on your hat and sunscreen and feel the peace and joy that fresh air, soil and a beautiful garden can bring to your life!

Visit www.moment-making.com to learn more about caregiving and to submit your questions, challenges and successes. Cochran Beaulieu, a resident of Sumter County, is the author of the book, “Moments that Matter, a roadmap for caregivers and their loved ones with memory loss.”

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