Why Your Senior Housing Development Should Add a Zen Garden

August 6, 2014 at 12:09 pm

zen gardenGardening is one the most popular recreational activities in the U.S., particularly among older adults, according to a March 2014 article in the “Journal of Aging Research.” As dementia progresses in a patient, the condition impacts his ability to perform certain activities. Remaining active and practicing skills linked to interests can help an individual feel more connected to his normal life and more in control. The installation of zen gardens – particularly in senior housing communities – with evidence-based designs can bring a sense of calm that no prescription can provide.

The Benefits of Zen Gardens for Patients

Promotion of self-identity

When dementia patients have the opportunity to participate in gardening activities, they feel as if they gain a sense of purpose and belonging. Getting out of a clinic-like environment with peers is important to patients and may help increase participation in those who would normally keep to themselves. As patients participated in garden activities without family members, they can gain a sense of autonomy.


Facilities generally coordinate activities around zen gardens for groups of patients to promote socialization and the maintenance of cognitive skills. Instead of focusing on the past or frustrations when visitors arrive, the garden gives a patient an interesting topic to discuss.


When garden visits are scheduled, routine activities, the Thrive program found that patients have a simpler time keeping track of time and the days of the week.

Purposeful activity

Whether it’s for meditating, exercising or planting, the inclusion of a zen garden in a facility can help patients feel as if they are doing something meaningful and useful, which promotes a sense of accomplishment.

Improved moods

Just as gardening has a calming effect on healthy individuals, a zen garden can help calm and improve a patient’s mood. Outdoor spaces can trigger positive memories and give patients a chance to relax. They also provide the opportunity for exercise and give a sense of freedom, which help reduce feelings of stress and depression while promoting a greater sense of well-being.

Zen Garden Elements

Zen gardens designed for specifically dementia patients are like healing gardens an organization introduces as part of its alternative and complementary therapies. The elements within the space help patients feel energized, comfortable, less stressed and safe. While there several ways to design zen gardens, they generally have the following characteristics:

Maintainable garden design

zen garden must be simple to maintain to maximize its safety and therapeutic benefits. A garden that isn’t maintained or simple to care for can make a dementia patient feel stressed.


The garden’s design and layout accommodates the size of the space and possible user limitations. The design remains simple and balanced so patients understand the space.

Visual appeal

For a garden to feel restorative, it must be aesthetically pleasing and include focal points to promote orientation within the garden.

Unity and environmental soundness

zen garden includes the appropriate hardscaping in relation to the plants used. The plants engage the senses and are placed strategically and purposefully. In addition, garden maintenance has little to no negative effects on the surrounding environment.