Exterior Design

December 9, 2010

One of the best things you can do for your loved one’s health and safety is to give them a secure outdoor area where they can garden, exercise, and enjoy fair weather.  Just like interior spaces, though, exterior spaces need to be designed to suit the unique needs of the dementia patient.

  1. Start with a high, opaque fence.  Wide open spaces, passing traffic, and other distractions may be upsetting to dementia patients.  Make certain the gate is locked or too complicated for the dementia patient to operate.
  2. Get advice from a landscape designer or horticulturalist on the plants in your outdoor area to make certain none of them are poisonous.
  3. Designate spaces for planting annuals, especially if your loved one enjoyed gardening previously.
  4. Consider window boxes for planting annuals if getting up and down from the ground is difficult for your loved one.
  5. Add comfortable benches or gliders to sit and enjoy pleasant weather.  Rocking chairs can tip.
  6. On patios, ceiling fans can make an uncomfortably warm day comfortable.
  7. Gardening can give those suffering from dementia a sense of accomplishment and of contributing to the family.  You can encourage these positive feelings by phrasing gardening suggestions in a positive light:  “Would you please help me plant some pansies?  You are so much better at arranging them than I am,”  or “I really need your help getting this garden into shape.  The weeds have taken over!”

A word about swimming pools: Pools are a danger to dementia patients.  Those who have been swimming all their lives may get into the pool and forget how.  The perception problems of dementia make it doubly dangerous.  For a dementia patient who remembers how to swim, he may step into the pool by accident, misjudging the distance, depth, etc. Even if your loved one doesn’t venture outside, the risk of head injury and drowning is too great not to take precautions.  There are fences just for the area around the pool available through pool supply stores.

What has worked for you to help dementia patients enjoy the outdoors?  Please comment!

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