Have you ever found yourself taking a deep, relaxing breath when encountering a beautifully maintained garden, park or other outdoor space? There’s just something calming and refreshing about spending time outdoors that helps clear the mind and boost our mood. Now imagine a garden designed specifically to stimulate sensory experiences in a therapeutic manner. That’s the idea behind a sensory garden. And it’s why more and more senior living communities are offering them as a way for residents to experience the restorative effects of these engaging outdoor oases. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the benefits of a sensory garden and the therapeutic effects it can provide for older adults.
What is a sensory garden?
Simply put, a sensory garden is a cultivated greenspace designed specifically to engage sight, sound, smell, touch and taste in significant and intentional ways. Sensory gardens can have a calming effect on seniors experiencing anxiety. They can also help stimulate the minds of those with cognitive deficiencies since memories are so closely linked to our senses.
Sensory garden benefits
The benefits of a sensory garden can vary depending on how it’s designed. Some gardens are meant to stimulate and awaken the senses, while others provide a calming and relaxing environment. But no matter the focus, all sensory gardens can offer therapeutic benefits including:
Sunshine and fresh air can help ward off cabin fever and help stimulate the mind and body in positive ways. For seniors who are able, this study shows that helping to maintain a garden or green space can provide a sense of purpose, motivation and a host of therapeutic benefits as they tend to the many plants and sensory features of the garden.
The soothing effects of interacting with nature can greatly benefit seniors dealing with anxiety or degenerative cognitive conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Such gardens can be designed as a calming and relaxing oasis, providing a natural environment for patients and visitors to relax and recharge.
Another benefit for seniors suffering from cognitive decline, is the way a sensory garden can stimulate memories. The sight of a tree blowing in the wind, the sound of burbling water and the aroma of flowers and herbs are all powerful memory triggers. And since the sights, sounds and smells of nature don’t change over time, they can bring familiarity to patients who often feel like things are always changing.
Engaging the five senses
As its name suggests, sensory gardens benefit seniors by stimulating the senses – providing unique ways to stimulate the body and brain.
Sight is usually the first thing we think of when a garden comes to mind, making color an important part of any sensory garden. Colors might be seasonal or they may be designed to maximize contrast or clustered in groups. Colorful butterflies and birds may also be attracted to plant nectar or certain colors to the delight of visitors. Other sources of visual interest may include water features, landscape lighting or brick, gravel, or stone.
Smell is deeply linked to memory, which is why sensory gardens should include a variety of plants offering differing aromas. Everything from floral and foliage smells to herbs like mint, rosemary, and basil can arouse and awaken the memory center of the brain.