Sensory garden engages residents with dementia to touch, smell their surroundings

Visitors Sarah and Philippa Reiss spend time at the pick and sniff plant section of the dementia garden. (Photo: ABC News: Carla Mascarenhas)

The scent of a lilac, the feel of sand between bare toes, the sound of a water fountain, the strength and texture of a sun-warmed brick wall—all of these sensory experiences can awaken the memory centers of the brain and engage residents in responses that are both emotional and physical.

Port Macquarie, near Sydney, Australia, has created a dementia-friendly garden whose winding paths, walls, bushes, water fountain and encourage visitors to reach out and touch nature. The garden also has a texture wall and areas where visitors can put their bare toes into sand, pebbles and cool grass.

"We see evidence of a relaxation response to being in nature … so much so that their heart rate will slow and blood pressure lowers, which is very important for people with dementia because they often experience anxiety and agitation," said Theresa Scott, a dementia research fellow at the University of Queensland, in an ABC news article. “There is also evidence to suggest smelling, seeing and hearing nature will be linked to recalling positive memories.”

The garden has plenty of visitors—Port Macquarie is a popular location for retirees and has one of the highest ratios of older adults in the country.

"I just love spending time in the garden. There is something extremely therapeutic about being out in the fresh air," said a visitor named Sarah (last name withheld). "To smell, sight, touch, taste, these are all really important things for dementia people as their senses break down. To go somewhere to experience it is a marvellous thing to do."

Topics: Alzheimer's/Dementia , Design