Tips for Gardening with a Senior Who Has Dementia

Tips for Gardening with a Senior Who Has Dementia

Dear Donna:

My dad has Alzheimer’s disease and recently moved in with me because it was becoming unsafe for him to live alone. While he still has a fairly good quality of life, his memory and judgment have declined.

As we head into planting season here in mid-Michigan, I’m considering having my dad garden with me. It’s a hobby I love and one that brings me such peace. I don’t want to give it up but I’m not sure how safe it is for my dad.

Any advice?


Julie in Saginaw, MI

Benefits of Gardening for Seniors with Alzheimer’s

Dear Julie:

Digging in the dirt is a great way to improve the quality of life for people of all ages. That includes people with most types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. The very act of gardening boosts mood whether or not a plant eventually grows. During warmer weather, you’ll often find residents and team members of the dementia care programs at Heritage Senior Communities enjoying this popular pastime.

For adults with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, gardening can have lasting benefits. It can:

  • Reduce pain, especially from arthritis
  • Improve attention span
  • Lower stress and agitation
  • Decrease need for medications
  • Improve strength and balance
  • Help minimize fall risk
  • Stimulate reminiscing
  • Foster emotional wellness

Gardening Tips for Family Caregivers

A few suggestions to help you and your dad stay safe while also enjoying your time together in the garden are:

  • Include in planning: Have your dad help pick out flowers and colors he likes. If he isn’t familiar with plant names or struggles with verbal skills, show him pictures from gardening magazines or websites. Encourage him to point out his favorites.
  • Designate space: If possible, have a section or corner of the garden specifically for your father. Consider installing a raised plant bed or containers so it’s safer and easier for him to access his vegetables and flowers.
  • Offer gentle reminders: Because adults with dementia typically have short-term memory loss, you’ll likely need to remind your dad when it’s time for certain tasks. Providing prompts to help him remember things like watering and fertilizing his area of the garden will be essential.
  • Plan pathways carefully: Build the garden around paths that form a circle. By keeping the path through your garden away from exits or gates, you might be able to prevent your dad from wandering out of the backyard. As Alzheimer’s progresses, that’s a common safety concern for families.
  • Incorporate benches: Be sure to place benches throughout the garden for your dad (and you!) to sit and rest. Because people with Alzheimer’s often struggle with mobility, having places to rest will be important.
  • Add water features: Finally, consider including fountains and water features along the pathway if you can. Your dad will likely enjoy them. Water provides positive stimulation to the senses while also helping to calm agitation and stress.

Best Plants to Grow for People with Alzheimer’s

Here are some suggestions for choosing plants for your garden:

  • Make sure to use only nontoxic plants. An adult with a memory impairment might try to eat pretty flowers that catch the eye. Check the Poison Control website for a list of harmful plants.
  • Use a variety of colors and smells to spark your dad’s senses. If he suffers from allergies, be careful with those that have high pollen count or strong fragrance, such as lilies and hyacinths.
  • Plant vegetables and herbs that you can pick together and use when preparing meals. Tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, basil, and parsley are all easy to grow in raised beds or containers.
  • Add vibrant herbs like lavender and rosemary to your joint garden. When they bloom, bring them inside to use in vases or sachets. Both offer stress-relieving benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Our final tip is more for you than your dad. Remember how much time you will be able to devote to gardening and choose plants with maintenance requirements that match your availability.

Wishing you and your dad happy gardening adventures this summer!

Kind regards,


Tips for Planning a Summer Container Garden

Tips for Planning a Summer Container Garden

After a winter that left many people self-isolating at home to try to avoid COVID-19 exposure, spring is finally on the horizon. If you are a senior with a love of gardening, one way to continue safely enjoying this hobby is container gardening. Digging in the dirt has a variety of health benefits, especially for older adults.

Health Benefits for Older Gardeners

Gardening is good for the body, mind, and spirit. It’s linked to lower blood pressure, better core strength, and reduced stress. That’s on top of having fresh vegetables and herbs to cook with and flowers to bring indoors all season long.

For older adults who’ve experienced a fall or those with a mobility challenge, planting a garden in containers, window boxes, and raised beds can be a safe solution. It’s a way to enjoy nature without having to bend over, stoop, and kneel.

Tips for Container Garden Success

A few suggestions for growing your herbs, vegetables, and flowers in containers this summer include:

  • Focus on favorite plants: Look for ideas on Pinterest or gardening sites like Proven Winners. It will help you identify the types of flowers you enjoy most and design attractive container gardens. Be mindful of how much sunlight your designated space receives each day. Does your porch or raised bed area receive full sun, part sun and part shade, or mostly shade? Your container garden’s ability to thrive depends on matching the plants to the sun coverage your garden receives.
  • Choose containers wisely: Another factor is the pot you will plant in. If you use a metal container placed in full sun, the roots may overheat. A chemically treated wood pot might result in those chemicals leeching into the soil your herbs or vegetables grow in. Plants that need deep roots should be planted in a tall container. The opposite is also true. If you plan to grow flowers in a hanging basket, choose plants that stay small and have a shallow root system.
  • Invest in good potting soil: Healthy soil is the foundation for a thriving container garden. An organic material that holds water is best for pots or raised beds. Your local garden center may carry a regional blend, which ensures the soil you use is appropriate for where you live. If you don’t have any luck, home improvement stores sell prepackaged potting soil specifically designed for container gardens.
  • Ensure proper drainage: Another essential is good drainage for your container garden. It protects the roots from rotting. If your container doesn’t have drainage holes, you can usually add a few with a drill or awl. Once you have drainage holes, place a small piece of screen over the holes to keep the dirt from washing away. If it’s not possible to drill or punch drainage holes, cover the bottom of the pot with a layer of stone or gravel.

One final tip is to remember that container gardens require more frequent watering than in-ground gardens. If dragging a hose or watering can around the yard is difficult for you, try to place your containers near a water source.

Summer Safety for Senior Gardeners

Remember to be safe when gardening outdoors in warm months. Stay hydrated, especially on hot, humid days. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Also wear a hat that shields your neck and face. Finally, garden early in the morning or later in the evening so you avoid the hottest times of day.

Gardening is just one of the many activities residents at Heritage Senior Communities in Michigan and Indiana enjoy. Call the community nearest you to learn more about the healthy lifestyle you can enjoy when you make a move this spring or summer!

Is It Safe for a Senior with Dementia to Garden?

Is It Safe for a Senior with Dementia to Garden?

Dear Donna, My mom was diagnosed with early-stage dementia two years ago. She’s managed to live independently until this year. After much debate, she moved in with my family and me. We are modifying our home and would also like to make some changes to the yard. Mom...
How to Keep a Senior Gardener Safe This Summer

How to Keep a Senior Gardener Safe This Summer

Dear Donna: My mom has always loved to garden, but she is now struggling with mobility issues. She also takes a few different medications that make her more susceptible to dehydration and heat. What can we do to help her keep enjoying her favorite activity safely? The...