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  • The benefits of sensory gardens and outdoor space for care home residents

    By Charlotte Lloyd, Developments Director at Exemplar Health Care

    As the weather warms, we’ve been reflecting on how the sunshine and fresh air impacts the wellbeing of the people we support.

    At Exemplar Health Care, we aim to create homes that empower people to live every day to the fullest. Providing accessible outdoor spaces that promote both wellbeing and independence are an important part of this.

    When building new homes, we create plenty of outdoor space to give people the opportunity to engage with nature and experience those benefits.

    Being outdoors is beneficial for the body and mind, especially for those living in care homes. Activities such as planting flowers, taking walks or cultivating a garden can boost mood, reduce feelings of stress and improve overall physical health.

    The ’ideal’ care home garden

    The ideal care home garden is based on the interests and needs of the people who live and work there.

    At Exemplar Health Care, we involve people in the design and upkeep of the garden space in their home.

    Many of our residents take on gardening roles which ensures that the space is meaningful to those who live there.

    Gardening is also a natural and quick self-esteem booster. It feels great to accomplish new tasks, and gardens give you endless opportunities to learn new skills.

    Ian, who lives at Kavanagh Place in Liverpool, used to be a full-time gardener. Now, he leads gardening projects at the home, such as setting up a new vegetable patches, and lovingly mows and de-weeds the garden.

    “Gardening makes me feel relaxed and happy,” says Ian. “I love all parts of gardening, especially cutting the grass and keeping it neat,” he adds. “It looks that good now.”

    And the Activities Team at Kavanagh Place can see a big difference in Ian’s wellbeing when he’s out in the garden.

    “When Ian’s out in the garden, he’s very content,” says the team. “It definitely lifts his mood. You can see when he’s out there that he’s in his own zone, and he’s super-focused.”

    Sensory gardens

    Many of our care homes have sensory gardens that include features such as flowers, plants and surfaces that stimulate the senses through touch, sight, scent, taste and sound.

    These sensory attributes allow people to engage with the environment around them in a way that’s meaningful and beneficial to them.

    Many of the people we support experience decreased use or loss of certain senses. Engagement with sensory gardens allows access to sensory inputs, nature and sunlight which increases sensation.

    Promoting independence

    A care home garden should also promote independence so that residents can enjoy the benefits without relying on others.

    This means having an accessible garden space that can be enjoyed by everyone no matter what their age of physical abilities.

    Good design eases movement and avoids awkward changes in direction and levels. It uses a smooth and stable paving surface to allow ease of access.

    There should be no barriers and walking paths should be created to be wide enough to accommodate various types of equipment such as wheelchairs or walking frames.

    Handrails can provide support and reassurance, and can be used as a feature to enhance the look and people’s experience of the garden. Think about the material of handrails. Metal is smoother but can be cold to touch. Whereas, rope and wood feel warmer but need repairing and protecting.

    Having communal areas such as benches or chairs throughout can make the space feel social and collaborative, allowing people to spend longer in the garden, either with others or by themselves for quiet reflection.

    Benefits of gardens in care homes

    For people who have limited mobility or have few opportunities to venture into the wider community, gardens offer a space for them to connect to nature and the outside world.

    In particular, gardens with sensory features can be beneficial for those living with dementia, for a variety of reasons. Alzheimer’s UK1 states that there are multiple benefits that gardens provide to those living with dementia including; providing tension relief, stimulation, opportunity for reflection as well as alleviating feelings of helplessness. All of which are symptoms that those living with dementia may experience.

    Initiatives across the Exemplar Health Care community

    We run company-wide competitions, organised by our Service User Council, to encourage people to make the most of their gardens.

    Last year, we ran a sunflower growing competition and this year, our latest initiative is the pumpkin growing competition, which is running until Halloween 2022. The gardens are open to our residents at any time, but we’ve found that having these initiatives encourages a sense of community.

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