I met so many inspiring people when I was writing Connecting in the Land of Dementia. Activities director Lori Condict, from Chestnut Glen Assisted Living by Americare in St. Peters, Missouri, created an inspiring program focused on planting seeds and growing engagement. Whether you’re a family care partner or you work in a facility, you’ll learn from Lori’s project.
Planting Seeds and Growing Engagement
“Mable, I could use your assistance this morning,” Lori Condict says. “The tomatoes are ripe and I need help picking them. Are you available?”
Mable nods. Lori waits while Mable puts on her gardening hat and gloves. Then they join others from the memory care community outside in the garden.
“What are you thinking about Mable?” Lori asks, handing her a small bucket.
“My first bite of summer tomato.”
“Let’s try one of these,” Lori says. She knows that Mable and her husband used to have a vast vegetable and flower plot.
Mable plucks a cherry tomato off the vine and pops it into her mouth. Slowly, she picks another and plops it in her bucket. Others in her community are also harvesting the tomatoes.
“We’ll be sharing our vegetables with the food bank, so others less fortunate will enjoy this fresh produce, “Lori reminds her.
“That’s good,” Mable says. “Everyone needs to taste these tomatoes.”
Mable lives in the memory care unit in Chestnut Glen Assisted Living by Americare in St. Peters, Missouri. She is one of the 15 residents working on the Operation Riverfront gardening project. Lori, the activities director in the care facility, is a city girl. But she knew she’d have plenty of help from her residents. She also knew that they would thrive knowing they had a purpose and were giving back to their community.
Lori started simply, with a bunch of tomato, cucumber, squash, peppers, and pea seeds, pretty and colorful vegetables that would remind residents of their home gardens. Lori had tasks for all abilities: some held little containers while another filled them with dirt; some tamped in the seeds and others labeled them. Lori provided everyone with special hats and gloves.
While they worked, they reminisced, talking about favorite tomato dishes and summertime activities.
Sharing the Bounty
When it was time to share with the local food pantry, the residents did the harvesting and packing.
“We had planters, pickers, packers, counters, and a watering crew,” Lori says. “People who’d been depressed and disengaged got involved. Through working on the project, they felt alive and useful; they had a purpose.”
Want to grow plants, connections, and a sense of purpose? Here are some tips:
- Select flowers, plants, vegetables, and herbs that are pretty, colorful, easy to grow, and have some meaning to the person living with dementia.
- Create small tasks that are interesting and pleasurable.
- To increase the sense of purpose, find ways to share blooms, cuttings, vegetables, and herbs with family, friends, and community members.
- For those who can’t go outdoors, bring the plants to them in containers.
- Infuse the work with opportunities for conversation.
Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.