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As Mom and I were taking Dad out for a walk (if creeping along like a three-toed sloth counts as “taking a walk,” that is) this weekend in the enclosed outdoor space at his dementia care facility, we started talking about the things we would do differently if we were the landscape architect for the space. In the unlikely event that any budding or established landscape architects are reading this blog, I offer you these suggestions:

  1. Make the walkways WIDE. Like, wide enough for three people to walk side-by-side. Since Dad can’t walk very well on his own, it sometimes requires a person on each side to steady him and keep him moving forward. And even when that wasn’t so much the case before, we liked to be able to hold his hands on each side as we strolled. And, obviously, keep the path as flat as possible.
  2. Put bumper guards along the edges of the sidewalks so that those with wheelchairs or walkers don’t go over the edge and into the plants.
  3. Don’t plant bushes/trees with poisonous berries. Residents with dementia don’t know that they shouldn’t pick things off of the foliage and pop it into their mouths. Think of planting things that wouldn’t be harmful if ingested by a confused resident. There’s a lovely raised bed that they regularly change the plantings in, but I sometimes wish they’d plant herbs and lettuce and other edibles for safety reasons. It might also be a nice activity for some of the more capable residents to help with the planting of the raised beds, since it wouldn’t require crouching down.
  4. Offer multiple benches along the path, some covered, some open. There’s a nice gazebo of sorts at my dad’s place that has three benches. It’s nice for sitting and enjoying the occasional breeze that passes through (the ones that are not emanating from my father’s bowels, that is). It’s a good place to just sit and be – away from the smells and sounds of other residents. When choosing the benches, think in terms of ones that don’t require cushions, or if cushions are required, please, for heaven’s sake, choose the kind that are wrapped in plastic so they don’t get soaked if it rains, thus soaking the tushies of anyone unfortunate enough to sit before checking for dampness. Residents don’t check for dampness.
  5. Check for poison ivy. Frequently. Zealously. Please.
  6. Make sure the fences are sufficiently tall so that the more spry residents can’t climb it too easily. The day we moved my dad in, he did just that – hopped the 6-foot wrought iron fence with the spikes on top. Perhaps consider very large trampolines on the outside of the fence to bounce them back in (now there’s a mental image).
  7. Put out birdfeeders. The residents love to watch for birds and squirrels when they’re in the activities/sun room.

And there you have my unsolicited eleventy cents about landscape design at dementia care facilities. You’re welcome.