All roads lead to home

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All roads lead to home
All roads lead to home
The new wandering garden at Friendship Retirement Community in Roanoke, VA, is so picturesque and thoughtfully executed, employees compare a leisurely stroll through it to taking a field trip.

The latest addition to this continuing care retirement facility provides a safe environment where memory care residents with bouts of restless walking can burn off steam while remaining under close supervision.

The garden accompanies the community's 38-bed Alzheimer's unit and was designed with each resident's personal safety in mind. According to Sue Van Housen, RN, Friendship's administrator, memory care residents are often quick to ingest plant materials, so she and her colleagues compiled a list of non-toxic plants for the area. Mums, for example, didn't make the cut.

Van Housen notes that while intellectual perception drops in people with dementia, sensory perception increases, so selecting plants that were bright, colorful, fragrant and safe to touch (cactus plants also were out) was particularly important. Bright colors and strong fragrances have been known to help stimulate pleasant memories.

The entire area provides varying degrees of shade to prevent residents from becoming over-heated in Virginia's summer sun. Each of the garden's winding paths has a circular design so that each sidewalk brings residents back to where their walk started, Van Housen explains.

The concrete sidewalks — which are 7-feet wide to accommodate at least two lanes for wheelchairs — have a slightly yellow tint to help reduce the glare for Alzheimer's residents with impaired vision. Gritty sediment also was added to the concrete to make it less slippery after it rains. Handrails and benches are provided for an extra layer of protection against falls.

Even the garbage cans placed throughout the garden were designed to be hazard-free to residents.

“We wanted to make sure residents couldn't get into it, but we also wanted it to be pretty,” Cheyenne Barton, the community's director of activities, said. “What we chose was very durable but elegant.”

Immediate benefits
Barton says the therapeutic benefits of the wandering garden were apparent soon after it was completed, particularly in terms of easing “sundowning” behaviors. Since staff members monitor the garden 24 hours per day, residents who want to wander at night can do so safely.

“Evenings are a big time for wanderers, and this is a way for them to relieve stress and anxiety,” Barton explains. “They will be more peaceful and ready to lay down and rest. They are able to sleep better and eat better and get more exercise.”

The wandering garden hasn't been open long enough to deduce whether it's helped reduce the use of medications among dementia residents, but Van Housen says her staff has seen a noticeable change in aggressive and agitated behaviors in residents, even though the garden has only been open since the end of the summer. And she expects to continue to see new signs of improvement.

“We want to see positive outcomes and quality of care. We do a lot of medication monitoring,” she says. “We're hoping to drive good, concrete data from this. People like data.”