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Social Farming for those with Dementia – A Good Idea?

People with dementia are showing improved health and improved quality of life if they spend time on a farm. I don’t mean a commercial working farm but a specialised farm where carers are available to assist, to mind, to encourage and to support people in their farming activities. This concept started in the Netherlands and met with significant success. Various care farms are being set up in England and are proving to have considerable benefits.

Activities can include enjoyable tasks such as feeding chickens, collecting eggs, planting seeds, counting animals, harvesting fruit and vegetables, and preparing home grown food for lunch. Apart from the benefits of being out in the open air, exercising and chatting to others, the  supportive environment is shown to improve their quality of life and restore calmness. Meeting new people, regular chats, enjoying seeing growth in animals and produce, there’s something to enjoy for the older people and for the carers.  It gives people with dementia a renewed enthusiasm and confidence too. An alternative to care farming too is town councils are providing a small area of land for allotment plots, creating community gardens where all members of the community can garden together.

Transport in the shape of a seated trailer pulled behind a tractor means that those with limited mobility can access various areas on the farm. They can be driven out to see the bluebells in the wood, see cows in a field or to smell the wild garlic growing.

The benefits of the visit to the allotment or the farm can be extended for the wet days or the days when it’s not possible to bring them to the farm. Scrapbooks can be created, photographs can be taken and shared, leaves and flowers can be collected and displayed. The various senses are stimulated – from feeling the soil through their fingers or stroking a baby lamb, the smells of the flowers and the freshness of cut grass, the taste of fresh food, seeing the beauty and colours of the scenery and produce, hearing the noise of a spade striking the earth and the bleat of a tiny animal.

The concept of social farming is growing in Ireland. So far, it seems to be focused on catering for younger people and young adults with learning difficulties, teaching them the wonders of farming and creating food. However, it is to be hoped that this will be extended to those with dementia in time.

What do you think? Do you think care farms would be beneficial to older people in Ireland?

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