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EngAGEment Garden: From Dream to Reality

A dementia-friendly garden was a long-time dream of the Mankato and North Mankato ACT on Alzheimer’s action team (the ACT Team). In 2019, with the partnership of Sandi Lubrant, chairperson for the ACT Team, Laura Peterson, Director for the Living Earth Center, and two faculty from Minnesota State University Mankato, the Garden EngAGEment program, a dementia-friendly garden became a reality. Faculty members Drs. Kristen Abbott-Anderson (School of Nursing), Sheen Chiou (Communication Sciences and Disorders), along with Laura Peterson used guidelines developed by dementia-friendly gardens in the United Kingdom to carefully design the garden layout. Dementia-friendly features in addition to layout/design, are level ground, paths within the garden allowing use of assistive devices, a raised garden bed, signs and posters, adaptive garden tools, and seating options.

The Garden EngAGEment program emphasizes social interaction and abilities (e.g., engaging all five senses) to stimulate participation for the individual with dementia and their care partners facilitated by dementia-friendly trained volunteers. This season, 39 undergraduate and graduate students are volunteering to help with the garden. Students represent a wide variety of majors and disciplines providing experience working on an interdisciplinary team, something that will benefit students as they move into their professions.

Garden visitors may take part in an array of activities that include planting, watering, and maintaining the garden, engaging with garden produce such as smelling, tasting, and reminiscing about memories based on smells and aromas, enjoying pollinators and the colorful flowers. Garden participants have even been known to engage in other forms of movement within the garden environment such as walking, dance, and singing. Student volunteers are integral in leading programming and helping with gardening duties.

The garden features a bench donated by Sandi and Ross Lubrant in memory of Sandi’s mother who lived with Alzheimer’s and Lewy Body dementia, and who loved gardening. The Lubrant’s vision in donating the bench was for families living with dementia to have a place to sit and enjoy the garden at any time. After a hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic, Kristen and Sheen are excited to bring new features to the garden this season. New additions this season include signage describing activities in which garden visitors could engage if visiting when formal programming is not scheduled; a new raised garden bed to provide ease of access for garden visitors; a mailbox has also been installed in the space that houses a ‘guest book’. Garden participants are invited (and encouraged) to write about their garden experience using the guest book following their visit. If participants choose, they may also access an online guest book using the QR code provided on the garden sign. Garden programming is planned for Monday afternoons presently, but with flexibility as the season unfolds. As a part of the garden community, we invite you to engage with the dementia-friendly garden, interact with visitors, and help any way in which you feel comfortable. 

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