How Gardening Benefits Mental Health | Lauren Mahakian | Columns

As a dementia practitioner, I intend to always support the tireless community of caregivers and families living with a loved one with dementia. But here is an opportunity to also raise awareness in the community as a whole – through gardening.

Gardening changes lives; I can think of few activities that offer so many benefits to mind, body and soul.

Gardening for the mind

I remember as a child thinking that a “real gardener” had to know the Greek and Latin names of his plants; and so I called my mother’s begonias “Begoniaceae”.

But as any gardener knows, there’s enough technique and science to sunlight hours, exposure, soil types, and watering needs that makes Latin and Greek names less important.

Even the simplest gardening requires concentration, attention span and digging in the mind.

For many people with dementia, this is a wonderful opportunity to deepen their cognitive skills, including learning or regaining lost skills. Not only is this good stimulation stimulating!

Gardening for the body

  • Many of us suffer from vitamin D deficiency, affecting everything from bone strength and the immune system to mood and sleep cycles. A typical vitamin D supplement is around 2,000 international units. Did you know that half an hour in the sun can produce between 8,000 and 50,000 international units?
  • Pulling weeds, digging and watering to a minimum includes movement and reach, increasing strength, endurance and flexibility. Of course, any exercise can help reduce anxiety, depression, and other mental issues, including dementia.
  • Placement of plants is related to orientation and spatial awareness.
  • Like any hobby or activity, distractions help reduce fixations on other ailments or destructive habits, such as fidgeting, scratching, etc.
  • The ability to eat fresh fruits or vegetables, such as tomatoes, strawberries, lettuce, or easy-to-grow herbs, provides a healthier lifestyle.

Gardening for the soul

  • It is often difficult for people with dementia to have goals, purpose or obligations. The gardener can take on the role of “caregiver”, which includes watering on a schedule and/or pruning that doesn’t happen on its own, creating a life of purpose.
  • A person with a goal is a happier person, decreasing isolation, depression and restlessness.
  • It offers a topic of conversation that is happy.
  • It provides a sense of control where that is often lacking, i.e. water and fertilizer can help a plant and give the gardener a sense of achievement.
  • Stimulation of the five senses: The sight of plants and flowers, their scent, their textures to the touch, the sound of nature and the taste of ripe fruit appeal to all the senses and are positive stimuli.

Where to garden?

Ideally outside, but any windowsill can accommodate some plants. For those in group homes, I encourage a discussion with management to facilitate access to a garden to maintain.

For those without this ability, community gardens can be found online and are a fabulous source for all of the above, as well as socializing and even teamwork, increasing social bonds.

Get started easily.

Life can change when there is just one small potted plant within sight or care.

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Lauren Mahakian is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. She supports families affected by Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and dementia through care management services and the “Unlocking the Doors of Dementia™ with Lauren” podcast, as well as free support groups and specialized memory care homes located in Torrance and Solvang. Visit for more information.

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