The Living at Home Block Nurse Program is well-known in the community for the work they do assisting residents living with memory loss diseases like dementia. Whether it’s the Building Bridges Memory Choir or the specialized classes for care-givers, LAH/BNP has done the heavy lifting to make life easier for all of Granite Falls residents. Continuing this work, the LAH/BNP recently unveiled a new Dementia Garden thanks to financial support from the Granite Falls Area Community Foundation and in collaboration with the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP).

LAH/BNP Program Director Kelly VanKlompenburg says that dementia gardens are designed to be an accessible and friendly way for individuals with memory loss to walk outdoors and get their hands dirty - in addition to providing meaningful social interactions. According to The Alzheimer’s Society, “exercising in the garden helps develop the appetite, boosts energy levels and promotes a better night’s sleep. Maintaining, as far as possible, existing skills that give pleasure and confidence.”

“What I’ve seen is that right now, it’s been a destination for people to take a walks and also be able to get their hands dirty and do gardening and eventually enjoy the fruits of their labor,” VanKlompenburg said.

She explained a little about how she first got the idea. “I was researching opportunities for people with dementia to maximize their social and physical abilities to do things and came upon dementia gardens,” VanKlompenburg told this reporter. “I did further research and Mark [Roisen of LAH/BNP] suggested we apply for the Granite Falls Community Foundation grant. From there I was at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast and was able to meet up with [former Director] Cathy Anderson and Ana Schneider from the SHIP program who were excited to join the project as well.”

This funding and outside support proved to be critical in getting the project off the ground. SHIP provided the necessary materials while the City of Granite Falls allowed LAH/BNP to use land close to the Skyview neighborhood. The design and construction of the special beds was overseen by a team of local volunteers who were able to get the project completed in a single afternoon around Memorial Day. VanKlompenburg explained how the dimensions and spacing of the beds were designed to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility equipment - thus making the site as accessible as possible.

The garden offers participants a wide array of different vegetables, flowers, and greenery. Anna Snyder from Countryside Public Health was able to partner with the school gardening program and helped secure a donation of veggies for the garden while the flowers were purchased using grant funds. VanKlompenburg also added that a shed will be constructed at a later date by city workers to house gardening tools and equipment.

Thus far, VanKlompenburg has received positive feedback from the community, even though “a pandemic is not the ideal time” to start something like this. She explained that she has “met clients up there and the spouse says to me that it is nice to have something functional and meaningful to do. They were pretty pleased with the outing they were able to have.”

Although planning and actualizing the dementia garden was made extra challenging thanks to COVID-19, LAH/BNP Executive Director Mark Roisen said that the garden itself is almost ideal for current conditions because it allows participants to engage with the site in a safe and socially distant manner. “We just can’t gather in large groups,” he added. “It’s a reminder that we can get out and garden.” LAH/BNP expects to roll out more programming in the future with an eye on ensuring a safe environment for participants.