Gardening with KSAT: Gardening can help reduce dementia, improve memory

A local memory care facility uses gardening to help keep residents’ memory sharp

SAN ANTONIO – Research shows gardening can help reduce dementia and help dementia patients improve memory.

It’s why the residents at The Gardens at Castle Hills assisted living and memory care facility have started a gardening club and are now seeing the benefits.

“It takes you away to, I don’t know, maybe that’s the way it is in paradise, among the flowers, among the birds and nature,” Lucy Medrano, an 85-year-old resident said.

Lucy is one of the residents and has led a gardening club over the past year. One of their projects were sunflowers, that eventually grew over 10 feet tall.

“A plant that grows tall from that tiny seed,” Lucy said, while showing the giant head of the sunflower that has hundreds of seeds on it.

Lucy isn’t just nurturing her garden, but also her memory. Research shows that daily gardening may reduce the risk of dementia by up to 36%. Another study has shown that gardening can improve the levels of brain nerve growth factors which are related to memory.

“Even though the brain is shrinking because of dementia and other things, this reignites it a little bit and makes more connections,” Tim Dicks, sales director with the Gardens at Castle Hills said.

Dicks started out as the activity coordinator at the facility and said the research is why they started the garden club a year and a half ago. He said it not only gets the residents socializing outside, but helps exercise their brains and keep memories sharp.

“It’s really cool when you see someone doing something that they love doing, like gardening. And you talk to them and you can have a conversation while doing it and you’re like, ‘wait a minute.’ The other day this person didn’t know what day it was and now they can have these deep conversations with me and it’s really uplifting,” Dicks said.

“People make connections with their past, when they used to garden in their home and with their loved ones,” he explained. “And it strengthens those memories which strengthens the part of the brain that accounts for the memories.”

For Lucy, that memory is of her late husband, who passed away from Alzheimer’s. They were married for 67 years and loved gardening together.

“When I do it here, I feel that he is with me,” Lucy said.

Alicia Farias is 82 years old. She is also part of the garden club and keeps several plants on her patio.

“It keeps me busy from sitting there and being depressed or anything,” Alicia said. “I just love to be out there working with the plants or reading, but I do like to be gardening.”

“Plants are like children,” Lucy said. “The more love you give them, the more beautiful they are.”

Lucy said gardening doesn’t just help keep their minds healthy, but more importantly gives them a new purpose and reason to keep going. Even when they miss the loved ones that have passed.

“My duty is to go on living for my children,” Lucy said. “And I’m finding a new purpose, in life. And I love gardening.”

About the Authors

Sarah Acosta is a weekend Good Morning San Antonio anchor and a general assignments reporter at KSAT12. She joined the news team in April 2018 as a morning reporter for GMSA and is a native South Texan.

Azian Bermea is a photojournalist at KSAT.

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