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,