Health and Wellness

Posted 7/7/21

Dignifying Memory Loss With Memory Gardens By Nicole DePalma MS, LMT I’m so glad I was listening to the radio yesterday morning, and it turns out, the same piece was run on the radio this morning …

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Health and Wellness


Dignifying Memory Loss With Memory Gardens

By Nicole DePalma MS, LMT

I’m so glad I was listening to the radio yesterday morning, and it turns out, the same piece was run on the radio this morning as well! I’m talking about Minnesota Public Radio’s (MPR) wonderful story regarding a memory garden project in Mankato, MN. I’ll give you the link to the story so you can read about it and listen along at the end of this article. Its well worth your while to check out this delightful and insightful program.

According to the author of the story, there are 50 million dementia cases worldwide, and 10 million new cases are diagnosed each year. As we live longer, it stands to reason that we’ll be experiencing more and more health issues like dementia, however, we do find that early-onset Alzheimer’s cases are on the rise, too. What can be done to prevent memory loss issues, or to moderate them is a subject for another story, but for now, Mankato’s program is making a difference in the lives of its patients and people that work with them!

The vision of Mankato and the North Mankato Alzheimer’s Action team (ACT team) has created the Garden EngAGEment program of Living Earth Center, whereby a community dementia-friendly garden helps to engage memory loss patients through all of their five senses. This garden was modeled after gardens in the United Kingdom that have been developed to make these spaces accessible and inviting to those with memory loss and their loved ones. Walkways are wider for walkers and other assistive devices to maneuver throughout the space, seating is provided in shaded areas, and all aspects of the garden are designed for the comfort and usability of Living Earth Center’s residents. This is a welcoming, useful space.

The residents of Living Earth Center along with volunteers, staff, and instructors from Mankato State University help to plant, water, and maintain their garden. Along the way, it’s been found that those dealing with memory loss seem to “come out of their shells”, engaging not only with the garden, but with each other, and the workers there. Many of these residents had a garden once, and memories come back through taste, touch, sound, vision, and smell. It seems to be the case that our sense of smell triggers memories. Think about how certain smells make us think of someone or something, and those memories can come back very quickly. Every time I get a whiff of Channel No 5, it makes me think of my Mom’s drawer where she kept her gloves and perfume when I was a kid! So we can only imagine what it may be like for someone living with memory loss to be able to recall a favorite smell, or sight, or event. According to the MPR story, the engagement the garden provides for Living Earth Center’s residents is a positive experience for them, helping them to open up more, having conversations, and finding joy.

The other interesting aspect of this story is the engagement of the volunteers and staff working in the gardens and with the residents of the program. Students from Mankato State in areas such as social work, communications, and nursing get an opportunity to hone their skills in their respective majors by involvement in “on the job training”. The students learn how to communicate and interact with people experiencing memory loss and treat them as the adults they are, not “large children”. This gardening program helps those that interact with people in stages of memory loss learn how to respect the person that is, and was. Memory loss individuals bring along a lifetime of living with them, and perhaps a long ago time can’t be recalled, but the “here and now” of the engagement that the memory garden offers, along with care and respect from those who interact with these adults, may help to bring about moments of happiness. This almost sounds like the “golden rule” of treating others as we would wish to be treated!

Gardens are wonderful things. They can teach us how to grow produce, how to care for what we’ve raised, how to share time with others in cooperation, or the solitude of getting our hands dirty and thinking thoughts while pulling weeds. Just the tending to a garden can give us satisfaction of knowing that we created this plot that’s alive and productive. Perhaps for those living with memory loss, being involved in gardening once again will give them a sense of purpose, happiness, and a mind that may be lit up with memories of times long gone, but yet still waiting to be savored. Maybe Hastings and our surrounding communities may consider a memory garden of our own! Cheers and be well!

The Link to MPR’s Memory Garden story is: with-memory-loss-share-common-experiences- through-gardening