According to census.gov, 1 in every 5 people living in the United States will be aged 65 or older. As the population ages, many people are moving to retirement homes and communities where their access to natural outdoor spaces may be much more limited. One solution to this is a sensory garden which helps reestablish a connection to nature while also stimulating the 5 senses. Senior residents can both tend to the garden and enjoy its natural benefits, providing high utility and quality of life.
What is a Sensory Garden?
As people age, they slowly lose the effectiveness of their senses. However, research shows that the use of bodily functions through exercise or stimulation improves blood flow and circulation which promotes the health of your 5 senses. Sensory gardens are natural spaces designed to stimulate your sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell all in one place and provide a natural and peaceful environment in which you can do so. Sensory gardens would include features such as flowers, grasses, leafy plants, trees, and water features along with benches and grassy areas for lounging and paved paths for easy access.
Being outside is a great way to stimulate your eyes. Screens and other sources of blue light indoors can not replace the natural light the sun provides, and sensory gardens are the perfect environment in which to spend some time outside with friends or just to get some alone time in a place other than your room. Colorful plants, flowers, and leaves catching the sunlight make for a naturally beautiful way to stimulate your eyes and get a break from screens and television.
The sounds from a sensory garden are arguably the most important part because they are what really immerses you in the experience of this outdoor space. Hearing is a sense that you cannot get back once you start to lose it, so spending time in a quiet and peaceful sensory garden is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the main community and all of the sounds that come with it. Sitting on a bench and listening to the birds chirp, the wind rustling through the branches and leaves of the trees, or water rushing through rocks and custom-built water features create a feeling of serenity that is also promoting your hearing health.
There are many different textures and feelings in nature, and sensory gardens are designed for having a wide variety available like the smooth and cool texture of rocks and stone, the rough bark of a tree, the soft and delicate petal of a flower, or the cool rush of running water. An even more interactive way people can interact with their senses is to actually tend to the garden and assist with upkeep.
Gardens can be an opportunity for residents to also have an area for their own community garden where they can grow their own vegetables and other foods. There is a sense of accomplishment that comes from eating food that you cultivated and took care of to ensure its growth and development. If they had a garden in their previous home, the foods they made with items from their garden can bring back memories and provide comfort.
Our sense of smell is strongly connected to our memory, and the variety of plants in the sensory garden can provide many pleasant or memorable smells that remind those who experience them of good times and old memories. Memory loss and diseases related to memory like Alzheimer's are very common amongst seniors, and the smells provided by the garden can activate some of those memories. Pleasant flowers, the smell of soil, and the other natural smells that come from gardens can be very comforting and make the community really feel like home.
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