Lottery funding set to make care home gardens dementia-friendly

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A project to support people with dementia by transforming outdoor spaces at 30 care homes across the UK launched today thanks to a £1.3 million grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

National charity Learning through Landscapes will work with residents and staff to make gardens and outdoor settings “more suitable, stimulating, accessible and more like familiar natural environments people have experienced in the past”. The programme encourage people to use the spaces more often and improve their health and wellbeing.

Around a third of the 800,000 people in the UK with dementia live in a care home. Many of these had significant experience of the outdoors either through work or in their own leisure time, which is now lost as a result of the restrictions dementia brings.

Although the health and wellbeing benefits of stimulating natural environments are becoming increasingly well known, the outside spaces of many dementia care settings are rarely used, if at all, and tend to be tidy, easy-to-maintain, highly-manicured spaces without areas to grow plants or wild corners that attract wildlife.

The project aims to replicate the findings of a pilot in Herne Bay, Kent. Learning through Landscapes consulted with the residents and staff and the care home’s outdoor space was transformed by a landscape gardener who introduced paths that always return to the beginning, memory beds with familiar flowers which were bright and highly scented, a seaside area with a beach hut and shells as a reminder of visits to the coast, bird boxes and feeding stations positioned so that birds visit the garden, and improved seating.

Staff will also be trained to promote frequent access to more appealing outdoor areas where people can rediscover gardening skills to improve their self-esteem or simply relax.

Juno Hollyhock, executive director of Learning through Landscapes, said the project brings together elements such as garden design, staff training and support, client based consultation and local knowledge to create “innovative and exciting” garden spaces.

“We believe that bringing together the very best in current thinking around designing for people living with dementia will give many more settings the chance to try out low cost solutions in their outdoor spaces in the future.”

Sue Cliffe, chief officer at Age UK Herne Bay, said: “Since we have made the changes our service users engage so much more with the outdoors, they are now able to go outside on their own and can often be found with a cup of tea watching the wildlife in our new habitat area. We can see for ourselves how being outdoors and in the natural environment helps their health and wellbeing by improving mobility, increasing relaxation and reducing anxiety.”

Learning through Landscapes is being supported by several partners. Groundwork will manage and deliver the landscaping works; Thrive will deliver the training to care home staff; Age UK will provide expertise on project design and implementation for people living with dementia, as well as identify appropriate settings; and the University of Kent will deliver the evaluation and support the consultations.

The 30 venues will be selected to ensure a variety of gardens with a range of features are included.