Senior Care Communities Embrace Mother Nature to Combat Dementia – Article


It has been noted numerous times that spending time in a natural, outdoor environment can relieve stress, improve focus and make people feel better overall.

Daniel J. Ritter, the Executive Director of Inspired Living at Kenner, has certainly taken notice. As a leader in the assisted living and senior care community field, Daniel has good reason.

Multiple studies have found people with Alzheimer’s disease and similar illnesses can significantly benefit from spending time outdoors. Specifically, people with dementia-related illnesses experience better sleep, less agitation and decreased anxiety after getting some sunshine.

Outdoor benefits — aquatic therapy, horticultural therapy — vs. dementia?

“Participating in a horticultural activity engages four senses: smelling the flowers, tasting the herbs, feeling the texture of the plants, visually appreciating the color and design of the flowers and plants,” Ritter explained.

That’s precisely why some assisted living and senior care communities focus on creating attractive, functional outdoor spaces where residents can engage in active and passive activities. Memory care residents can enjoy the outdoors with purpose built amenities and industry leading safety technology.

Building off that reasoning is why Inspired Living at Kenner offers wide walking paths, a putting green, a fishing pond, a fenced dog park and a swimming pool to provide a safe place for low-impact exercise, Ritter said.

The results have been favorable.

Research studies have shown positive trends in verbal agitation and physical aggression among people with dementia following horticultural therapy. Reduced agitation has also been seen among dementia patients who simply visit a garden.

Notably, a study compared behaviors of dementia patients at five residential communities. Two had gardens; the others did not. Researchers observed behaviors during a year-long period and found dementia-related incidents decreased 3.5 percent at the garden sites and increased threefold at the sites without gardens.

That’s specifically why it’s important to encourage residents to spend time outside, even if they aren’t participating in an organized activity, Ritter noted. Residents may be asked to get the mail or raise and lower the flag.

Ritter recalled a resident was reluctant to engage in activities but chose to help caregivers as they assembled and distributed decorative items on the lawn.

“To our surprise, she would go behind us and rearrange the items to her liking,” Ritter said. “To this day, the resident has taken ownership of the decorations on the Memory Care courtyard lawn. She repositioned them after a storm and has taken down the ones that the elements have destroyed or deteriorated. She is the one who takes care of making the lawn beautiful.”

Even with evidence supporting the benefits of seniors spending time outside, many caregivers think people with dementia simply can’t participate in outdoor activities. A 2016 study found that only 20 percent of people living with dementia felt their condition prevented them from spending time outdoors. However, their caregivers felt much differently, with 83 percent saying dementia limited the person’s ability to engage in meaningful activities outside.

Ritter sees the benefits of the outdoors.

“Often being told you can’t do something can create more agitation in someone with dementia, but we offer secure freedom with our technology and that gives caregivers and families peace of mind knowing their loved one can enjoy our garden/courtyard anytime they desire,” Ritter said. “With our resident-centered technology, we can be sure that while they are enjoying the outdoors, they are still safe.”

Inspired Living at Kenner provides independent living, memory care and assisted living at a 10-acre community, conveniently located to Interstate 10. A variety of health and wellness service are available along with chef-prepared meals, engaging enrichment activities, industry leading safety technology and 24/7 licensed nursing care.