'It's Great for the Soul': New Living Wall Garden Helps Dementia Patients Feel 'Worthwhile'

Eighty-seven-year-old Joyce MacSweyn lovingly waters the plants in the new living wall at Summerset Manor in Summerside, P.E.I. The vertical garden, attached to the inside wall of the sunroom, makes her feel at ease.

"Very, very relaxing. Very quieting," MacSweyn said. "And quieting to the nerves. Very, very comforting."

It's for those reasons the manor decided to install living walls in the two dementia wings, part of a pilot project to help seniors with dementia stay more active. 

"You know they all had gardens, they all had flowers to tend to and here they didn't have any," said Tania McQueen, occupational therapist at Summerset Manor.

'Get these residents involved'

According to McQueen, dementia residents often spend as much as 85 per cent of their time doing nothing — and 45 per cent of that time is spent alone. 

"So it's very important for me to get these residents involved in their household, rather than being passively entertained in front of a television where they're not getting any cognitive stimulation at all," McQueen said.

When people with dementia get bored or lonely, they often wander. "They start pacing, they start going into other people's rooms and things like that," McQueen said. "So we're trying to involve them as much as possible."

Tending the plants gives the seniors something to do. 

"Because otherwise what have you got to do?" asked MacSweyn. "So just planting is something to think about and that knowing, that you've put something into it."

The manor does have an outdoor garden, but unlike the new waist-high living walls, it's on the ground, making it difficult to reach for someone in a wheelchair. 

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