You know that smell – the one that reminds you of your childhood? It could be the smell of bread baking that brings you back to visiting your grandmother, or maybe it’s the smell of leather and oil from your father’s work gloves. No matter what that smell is for you, most are very familiar with that feeling of nostalgia!
These types of memories can also be very strong – often more vivid than memories we conjure up on our own without a familiar scent or touch. Literature shows this to be a fact, and it’s been proven that sensory interaction can heighten memories – even ones we thought we had long forgotten.
The practical applications for going down “Memory Lane” are especially exciting when we consider how many people live with illnesses that affect their recollection of old times. At St. Patrick’s Mercy Home, an Eastern Health long-term care facility in St. John’s also known to residents and volunteers as “St. Pat’s,” quite a few individuals live with memory loss or some degree thereof. Helping these residents enjoy and love their home away from home is one of Eastern Health’s top priorities.
For some individuals, transitioning from living in a private house to a long-term care facility can be challenging. Sometimes, what can be most difficult for residents to leave behind is the property where their house once stood. However, to make a new long-term care room feel more like home, residents can bring along personal belongings, including decorative items and photographs of family members.
Many residents of St. Pat’s had gardens on their property as homeowners. Tending to lawns and gardens may be a chore for some, but for many others, their land was a point of pride. To help make the transition to a long-term care home easier for individuals with memory loss, and to help make their new home feel more welcoming, St. Patrick’s Mercy Home Foundation, with many of its volunteers and residents, has established a Sensory Garden Therapy Program. What makes this Program different from others is that every plant in these gardens was specifically chosen to appeal to one of five senses, including taste, sight, smell, touch and hearing.
Memories: Thinking of the old, and creating the new
One resident who enjoys the sensory garden at St. Pat’s is Evelyn Power. Like many in her residential community, she once had a garden on her property before moving to St. Pat’s. Evelyn says that the sensory garden helps her remember all the good times she had tending to her plants. The goal of the Sensory Garden Therapy Program is to help evoke happy memories just like this, and lift the spirits of St. Pat’s residents!
“I love the smell and the feel of the plants, it reminds me of my own garden!” Evelyn Power, long-term care resident at St. Patrick’s Mercy Home.
A feast for the senses
The Sensory Garden Therapy Program at St. Pat’s consists of two components, namely, the sensory garden and the portable sensory garden. Most of the plants that make up these gardens are part of the Home’s primary garden, which is the Mercedes Marshall Memorial Garden, located in the courtyard. Here, residents can enjoy the plants however is best suited to them! Some residents like to tend to the plants to keep their hands busy and their minds active. Others simply enjoy the plants’ company and admire their beauty.
Some of the plants enjoyed by residents include Lemon Thyme, Lavender, and Rosemary. These plants have very rich aromas. Others include Lamb’s Ear and Mossy Rockfoil, which stimulate the sense of touch. Appealing to sense of sight, employees of St. Pat’s have also planted beautiful flowering plants such as Snapdragons and Lungwort.
Bringing the outdoors inside
The plants in the portable sensory garden – the second component of the Sensory Garden Therapy Program – were chosen for the same qualities as the plants in the main garden. However, these plants were also considered for their smaller size for indoor use.
Bringing nature inside the Home ensures that not a single person misses out on enjoying the garden – not even residents who may have mobility issues. Through the portable sensory garden, residents can touch the leaves and smell the refreshing aromas of beautiful plants.
St. Pat’s Home Sensory Garden Therapy Program has been particularly successful due to the background and personal interests of its many residents. If you find yourself visiting the Home, it’s not uncommon to find out that many residents were raised on a diet of homegrown food!
Gardening has a personal connection to residents’ younger years and it makes the therapeutic effects of the Sensory Garden Therapy Program particularly special. Josephine Pike, a resident of St. Pat’s, is a prime example! She maintains that tending to the garden keeps her busy and her mind occupied.
“When I had my own home, I loved my garden – I always planted stuff,” says Josephine. “Since I came to St. Pat’s, I’ve regained my love for planting things and watching them grow.”
The Sensory Garden Therapy Program at St. Pat’s is made possible thanks to the astounding support of its many dedicated volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering at St. Patrick’s Mercy Home and making a positive impact on a senior’s life, please visit http://www.spmhf.nl.ca/become-a-volunteer/.
This article was written by Gerard Morris, executive director of St. Patrick’s Mercy Home Foundation, and Maegan Marshall, communications assistant at Eastern Health.