" Research has shown that gardens can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, agitation, panic, aggression and confusion. "
How to create a dementia-friendly garden

Alzheimer’s Australia NSW is preparing to unveil an innovative dementia-friendly garden at its site in Bridge Street, Port Macquarie.

Using best-practice guidelines and research from around the world, along with feedback garnered through consultation with consumers and health professionals, the garden has been developed as a multi-purpose, therapeutic space that will stimulate and calm the senses.

The Hon. John Watkins AM, CEO Alzheimer’s Australia NSW said the garden will be an invaluable resource for people with dementia and their carers.

“We are incredibly proud of this unique space,” Mr Watkins said.

“Research has shown that gardens can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, agitation, panic, aggression and confusion.”

“Access to a garden has also been found to improve attention, relaxation and self-esteem. Interacting using all the senses in a garden environment can help trigger memories, and moving around the garden can help improve motor skills,” he said.

The recently-developed Alzheimer’s Australia NSW dementia-friendly garden at Port Macquarie.

Dr Theresa Scott, NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Development Fellow at The University of Queensland said gardens provide people with dementia access to fresh air, sunshine and exercise which can help regulate circadian rhythms and control appetite and sleeping.

“Older adults, quite simply ‘feel good around plants’, according to research. Spending time wandering through a dementia-friendly garden, tending to plants or simply admiring a flower requires effortless attention, providing relief from physically and emotionally draining experiences, and an opportunity to recharge,” Dr Scott said.

“Positive memories of one’s past can be stimulated, by being exposed to the sights and smells of nature such as plants, flowers, birds, water and insects.”

Elements to consider in creating a garden dementia-friendly include:


Colour and contrast

It is vital that everything is clear and simple, and contrasting colours is an easy way to show separation of elements. The Alzheimer’s Australia NSW garden has contrast between:

  • Paths and the ground
  • Signs and their writing
  • The colour of built-up garden beds, the soil contained in them and the ground surrounding them
  • Pots or planter boxes on walls and the plants contained, against the wall behind them



Signage is very important and should be as clear as possible. Signage in our garden has:

  • Large print
  • Plain font
  • Sentence case (i.e. not all capitals)
  • Graphics to help explain (e.g. arrows for directions, images to show a word)



Safety and usability should be key considerations. Our garden has:

  • Easy access, level paths and limited steps and lips
  • Hand rails for steps and ramps
  • High seating so it is easy to sit down and rise, with arm rests to assist with rising
  • One continuous path network with no dead-ends to create an engaging journey with a series of interesting focal points along the way
  • Paths wide enough to be usable by individuals or with the assistance of a caregiver
  • Non-reflective materials to reduce glare

“Importantly for people with dementia, when looping paths are built into the design, therapeutic gardens provide a safe area in which to wander or pace,” Dr Scott said.

“Design considerations such as safe and wide paths are crucial to reduce the risk of falls, and enable free access to individuals, whether physically limited or very frail.”


Therapy and socialisation

A garden can be used to reflect, meditate, reconnect and escape. For that reason, our garden has:

  • Flexible, multi-purpose spaces to cater for a variety of activities including guided meditation and various activities run by therapy professionals
  • Raised vegetable gardens and vertical herb gardens for horticultural therapy
  • A utility bench / outdoor kitchen for meaningful tasks such as food preparation and outdoor social meals
  • Family-inclusive elements including child friendly components (e.g. a frog pond, texture wall and vegetable garden)

“There is evidence to suggest that social benefits accrue for people who are actively involved in group-based gardening activities,” Dr Scott said.


Sensory experience

Elements with increased sensory intent can ignite a person’s experience through a combination of textures, visuals, feelings and smells. As such, our garden has:

  • A designated ‘pick n sniff’ plant area with fragrant species
  • Seasonal colour variation of planting that reflects the change of seasons
  • Plants with floral colour and textural foliage contrast


Sarah, from Port Macquarie, is living with dementia and is pleased that Alzheimer’s Australia NSW has created the garden.

“Having this unique space here in our community is going to be so beneficial to people living with dementia and their carers in Port Macquarie,” said Sarah.

“I’m looking forward to using the garden and would encourage other local people in similar circumstances to do the same. Carers will also benefit from spending time in this restful setting.”

Anybody with an outdoor space is encouraged to use as many of these principles as they can to ensure their space is as dementia-friendly as possible.

“If space and financial constraints prohibit these inclusions in an outdoor garden, introducing elements of nature — for example, potted plants and flowers, herbs and cacti terrariums – on a balcony or patio is an achievable way to take advantage of the therapeutic effects of nature,” said Dr Scott.

 Posted: August 1st, 2017

Mal said:

Hi currently looking at designs for dementia friendly gardens, one of the concerns was circular or round annexes would they be perceived as steps (for some reason?) or a hole in the ground? Just need some advice please.

Jennifer Whitehouse said:

I am aware of many dementia friendly gardens within aged care facilities and in the grounds of organsations, however what about dementia friendly gardens in the general community? Does any exist?

Debbie Pearce said:

Hi, I often am designing Sensory Gardens for Dementia and aged care facilities and wondered if anone happens to have a suggested species list that are safe to include in the planting? thanks

Dolores Coleman said:

We are undertaking improvements to our aged care facility especially 2 Courtyards. I would appreciate your input and suggestions

Building and gardens for ageing – Rosie House said:

[…] you research there are many ideas about dementia […]

Anonymous ? said:

I think your outdoor garden area is such a great idea for dementia patients who can associate with the joy of reliving their love of gardening. Could you comment on the benefit to one who never had an affinity with gardening or the perfume of flowers? Also, how does a career convince their loved one to absorb the beauty?

Add a comment:

Call the National Dementia Helpline: 1800 100 500