Sunridge now has its own healing garden located in its gentle care dementia unit.
This garden is a welcoming, magical, lively yet calm, imaginative, miniature Disneyland (as described by one local GP recently). This new environment was created to help residents to enjoy being in the unit. Gardens have proven healing benefits for people living with dementia and studies demonstrate they improve levels of agitation among people living with dementia.
The idea of creating the healing garden stemmed from artist Deirdre Eustace, who is also a registered nurse working at Sunridge in Duncan. She wanted the residents to have a place of joy. Gardens are referred to as heterotopias; places amenable to experiences in the past and present that offer possibilities for play and storytelling. The project started in December 2017 and finished in early April 2018.
In order to engage the community of Sunridge the garden took its own time to grow. Each week visitors, residents and staff celebrated its changes with the excitement of a real garden.
Eustace brought significant design chops to the project. Eustace worked for the Arts Council in Dublin, Ireland in local arts development and as a researcher and project manager for the president’s office at Dublin City University specializing in community development and creating creative spaces. She has been artist in residence at the Banff Centre; Watershed (Maine) and Air Vallauris (France). She has a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art and Design; MFA from University of Regina, a Higher Diploma in Community Arts Education from the National College of Art & Design (Dublin); and a post graduate diploma in Project Management (Dublin Business School).
Staff brought residents’ chairs to sit and watch or paint. Residents smiled and reminisced while watching the garden taking shape. Eustace asked simple questions like “what colour would you like the bird?” and “will I make another flower here or perhaps a butterfly?” Discussions with the Sunridge community took place at all hours even in the middle of the night. Colours and patterns were used to invite play and positivity. Children visiting the nursing home also participated painting butterflies, bees and ladybugs. Local pediatrician, Dr. Dominique Kelly, Eustace’s sister and an artist in her own right, painted the door.
Residents held ladders, assisted by cleaning brushes and suggested things they wanted in the garden. One resident in particular took on the job of holding the ladder every time Eustace worked on the ceiling and upper walls. He soon took on cleaning the paint brushes and paint rollers and recounted stories of his working life painting.
While painting, Eustace overheard families discuss with their loved ones things they saw in the garden. Games of ‘I spy with my little eye’ are now daily conversations for visitors and residents. Recently, the artist overheard a visitor discussing with his wife “what do you see today? Can you see the roses?” The healing garden now actively incorporates reminiscence therapy.
Bird houses and more sensory activities will soon be introduced and activities are being planned to encourage residents to enjoy the beautiful space they helped create.