People with memory problems make lasting impressions in an unlikely place – a Minnesota community garden

“They will first need to know what dementia looks like, what people with dementia will look like and how to engage with them so that they are taken care of,” Chiou said. “As long as they engage in a conversation, that’s the point of having a meaningful engagement opportunity.”

The Living Earth Center’s Garden EngAGEment program is for adults with memory problems. It’s a dementia-friendly garden that grew out of a long-held dream of the Mankato and North Mankato Alzheimer’s Action Team, also known as the ACT Team, in 2019.

The Dementia Friendly Gardens engage all five senses and are inspired by UK gardens accessible to people with memory problems. Some volunteers mash the mint leaves with their fingers or hold out a sprig of dill for visitors to inhale the scent. Sometimes it brings back memories and the patients begin to recall with the volunteers the gardens they used to have.

“We have walkways here that accommodate assistive devices like walkers, then we have seats and then shade so that we can meet all the needs of individuals so that they are comfortable during their visit.” said Kristen Abbott-Andersen, an MSU Mankato nursing professor.

This season, 39 MSU Mankato undergraduate and graduate volunteer students gain first-hand experiences in memory care. This benefits students from different disciplines like social work, communications, and nursing.

About 50 million people worldwide suffer from dementia, and every year there are nearly 10 million new cases. COVID-19 halted last year’s program, but Abbott-Anderson said attendees were excited to get their hands on the ground for the garden’s second season.

“What we find is that they are more talkative, they enter the garden rather calmly,” she said. “And then, as the session goes on, they become more and more talkative and more and more engaged with each other.”

The participants plant, water and maintain the garden. They also taste and smell herbs like mint, marjoram and dill. These moments are what help patients come out of their shells and enjoy the garden even more, said Heather Ballman, director of operations at the Pillars of Mankato Assisted Living Center.

“When they were younger they had gardens at home so it’s a great opportunity for them to be in a garden again,” she said.

Participants in the Living Earth Center Dementia Friendly Garden can awaken their senses with various herbs grown in the garden.  Hannah Yang / MPR News

Participants in the Living Earth Center Dementia Friendly Garden can awaken their senses with various herbs grown in the garden. Hannah Yang / MPR News

The therapeutic environment even brings impressionable moments for volunteers and caregivers. Ballman recalled that sometimes its residents spoke enthusiastically about visiting the plots and some even danced and sang during the program.

These opportunities at the Living Earth Center, Ballman said, are important for educating the public on how to deal with and interact with people with memory problems while helping participants age with dignity by finding a ground for life. understanding and experiences to establish lasting bonds.

“When you’re working with people with memory problems, it’s not young children,” Ballman said. “They are adults and while they may not remember what happened a week or five minutes ago, they are not children and so we have to treat them like adults.”

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