Nora Owen Unveils Dementia-friendly Show Garden at Bord Bia’s Bloom

“All the plans you have for your retirement, all the trips you intend on taking, they all have to be adjusted as soon as you hear the word ‘dementia’. Things that you thought would be part of your retirement, they disappear. But you just have to get on with it and accept that you are going on a different type of journey,” says former Minister for Justice, Nora Owen, of life with her husband Brian who was diagnosed with progressive vascular dementia in 2010.

An ambassador for Dementia: Understand Together, Nora Owen today unveiled the campaign’s ‘Moments in Time’ show garden at Bord Bia’s Bloom which is open to the public in Dublin’s Phoenix Park from tomorrow, Thursday May 31, through to Monday June 4. The garden was designed by Newtown Saunders Ltd, TrinityHaus and Sonas apc.

The garden is an initiative of the Dementia: Understand Together campaign, led by the HSE in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Ireland and Genio, which aims to create an Ireland that embraces and includes people with dementia, and which displays solidarity with them and their loved ones.

To coincide with the unveiling of the garden, the campaign has published its Top Tips for a Dementia-friendly Garden for members of the public online at www.understandtogether.ie/bloom, which includes recommended plants to stimulate memory such as daisies, carnations and hydrangeas.

A number of live music performances are planned to take place in the garden over the coming days, with the Forget-Me-Nots choir, a Dublin-based community choir that welcomes people with dementia, performing on Thursday May 31 at 11 am, and singer/songwriter Katie Gallagher, who has written the song Yesterday as a tribute to her grandmother who had dementia, performing on Friday June 1 at 10.30 am.

Garden Benefits

For Nora Owen, being involved with the Dementia: Understand Together campaign and, in particular, its development of a dementia-friendly garden, is particularly fitting as her husband Brian has always had a love of the garden: “Brian was always such a keen gardener. He loves nothing more than to sit in the swing-chair out the back and look at the wood pigeons nesting there. They give him hours of entertainment. He can’t do all that he used to do to tend to the garden but he still enjoys every bit of it; it gives him such peace. I can see the benefits the garden brings to Brian. He is able to sit out in it with the sun shining on his face and relax. It’s so wonderful for a person with dementia and their carer to be able to get outside with a nice cup of tea and sit peacefully for a while.”

“I’m pleased to be able to play my part in raising awareness of dementia, because there is such loneliness and isolation for those involved – both the people with dementia and their carers. We need to open up the discussion and let everyone know that they aren’t alone and that there are many supports for them out there. I am very lucky that, apart from the dementia, Brian is in very good health. He is able to come out with me to the cinema, for something to eat and to the shops. Although he is 85, he is physically better than a lot of other people much younger than he is.”

“We recently celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary and while we aren’t travelling the world as we had planned, at least we are spending our retirement together. Some people would give anything for that.”

For Sinead Grennan from Sonas apc, a member of the garden design team, key to its creation has been the involvement of people with dementia and their loved ones: “From the outset, key to our approach in the creative process was the involvement of people with dementia and their loved ones in the garden and to ensure that sense of ownership. We held a number of workshops with people with dementia, their carers and families to seek out people’s views around the garden design and development.”

“‘Moments in Time’ aims to provide a calm, relaxing place for people to experience togetherness and understanding with others. For a person with dementia, there is great therapeutic value in spending time outside, getting fresh air and natural light, being in contact with nature, carrying out physical activities, and simply spending time with others in a natural and interesting setting.”

Garden Lives On

For Dr Suzanne Timmons, Clinical Lead at the HSE’s National Dementia Office, the garden reflects the core aims of the Dementia: Understand Together campaign, which are about reaching out to people with dementia and their loved ones and including them in our lives: “This ‘Moments in Time’ dementia-friendly garden is an opportunity for the thousands of people who visit Bord Bia’s Bloom to understand the importance of maintaining our social connections, of keeping mentally stimulated and of keeping occupied and active. It gets us up close and personal with the outdoors, and the smells, sounds, and colours of nature. Hopefully, it will inspire people to take some of the ideas from our show garden home with them and to think about the other practical things they can do to create understanding and inclusive communities where people with dementia are supported and connected. We are delighted that the garden will be moved after Bloom to the Arklow Duck Pond, Nature Walk & Leisure Area in County Wicklow, so it will live on and continue to bring benefits to people with dementia and the wider community.”

The Dementia: Understand Together campaign is funded by the HSE and The Atlantic Philanthropies and began in 2015. The campaign website offers a comprehensive information resource on dementia, including a service-finder detailing county-by-county the dementia supports and services available. Support packs, including posters, leaflets and badges, can be ordered also. Visit www.understandtogether.ie or Freephone 1800 341 341.

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