New Study Shows Dementia Patients Helped by Horticultural Therapy

Horticultural therapy means gardeningA study published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association indicates that gardening or horticultural therapy can offer certain benefits to patients with dementia that include increased relaxation, lower levels of agitation, and increased activity.

The study was done by a team from the University of Exeter Medical School and was backed by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Applied Health Research and Care South West Peninsula and consisted of a thorough review of seventeen other studies. This study examined experiences in relation to such themes how the gardens were used, impacts of the gardens, and how the gardens were thought to influence patients, as well as negatives, including potential dangers posed by gardens and limited staff time available for supervising the outdoor activity.

Researchers found that gardens provide a pleasant area for interacting with visitors and can help to improve memory, while also offering a relaxing space for families and staff members.

Horticultural Therapy and Dementia

An estimated 7.7 million people are diagnosed with dementia every year, making dementia a public health priority. Nearly half of all elderly residential care patients are either diagnosed with dementia or have symptoms of dementia, while more than three-quarters of elderly nursing home patients have dementia or dementia symptoms.
Rebecca Whear, lead researcher on the study, says that there is a growing interest in treating those with dementia and dementia symptoms with therapies other than medication. She explains that gardens may provide soothing surroundings that stimulate the senses and memories of activities from the past.

In one study on horticultural therapy, a garden was introduced on a dementia ward with 34 male residents. The patients had unlimited access from after breakfast until just after dinner. After a year, the need for medication was reduced. A more detailed analysis showed that patients who used the garden frequently needed less antidepressant and antianxiety medication than those who used the garden less frequently.

Seven of the studies reviewed reported on behaviors related to dementia, including exit seeking, pacing, and violent outbursts. Six of the studies reported these behaviors less frequently.

These studies on horticultural therapy are the first of their kind, and in spite of the many benefits gardening may have to offer dementia patients, researchers do point out that this is an under researched field of study that is not valued by policy makers. Dr. Ruth Garside, one of the authors of the review study, explains that there are a number of factors that are still not fully understood with respect to how the design of the garden affects the well-being of patients, but it is quite clear that outdoor spaces can offer positive ways for people to interact.

Further research on horticultural therapy could benefit by focusing on certain key outcomes as well as a separate focus on the causes of limited accessibility in the residential care setting. Greater understanding of these factors has the potential to improve care of patients with dementia.

Factors That Contribute to the Onslaught of Dementia

Because dementia takes years to manifest, it is most commonly found in the elderly. There are various reasons why people get dementia, one of these being metabolic changes. This type of dementia is known as metabolic dementia.
As the term suggests, it is the result of certain physical and chemical processes that form part of our body’s metabolism going wrong. These could be certain glands that form part of the endocrine system no longer working optimally, a liver disease, or even uncontrolled diabetes. These are typical examples of conditions that arise due to malfunctioning adrenal glands and the accompanying adrenal fatigue.

Horticultural therapy and dementiaThe hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis forms part of the endocrine system and regulates your body’s response to any given stressful situation by means of producing and secreting hormones. Cortisol, produced and secreted by the adrenal glands, together with adrenaline, is your first response to any given stressful situation. This is an automatic response and not something you can control.

This response to threat allows you to think clearly and react to the situation at hand. When the stressful situation continues, however, the adrenal glands produce more and more cortisol in order for you to cope. This has a debilitating effect on your other hormones and bodily functions as they are compromised and seen as non-essential when it comes to staying alive. This is fine for short periods of time, but the long-term consequences are that your adrenal glands go into a state of fatigue that presents itself as a number of symptoms that functional medicine treats in isolation.

Symptoms commonly experienced are brain fog (not to be confused with dementia), anxiety, depression, diabetes, and a whole host of others.

Although one cannot say that Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome causes dementia, one could quite confidently state that most people with dementia have Adrenal Fatigue to some extent.

Although dementia is not, at this time, deemed curable by the medical establishment, there are a number of things you can do to either prevent its occurence or at least prevent it from worsening. Most of these are centered around diet and lifestyle changes.

Tips for Preventing/Managing Dementia

  • Get sufficient low-activity exercise, e.g. walking or gardening
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (these are typically found in fatty fish such as salmon)
  • Get enough sleep. If you suffer from insomnia at night, consider taking a nap during the day.
  • Do not live in isolation. Connect with people. Do not shun your family and friends.
  • Explore different relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation.

Source: Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 2014.

Horticultural therapy and dementia patients