Alzheimer’s healing gardens

Name of good practice Il giardino dei sensi nuovi

Alzheimer’s healing gardens

Name of organisation Centro Diurno Alzheimer di Madonna Alta – Perugia- Italy

Residenza Fontenuovo

Servizio Sanitario Regionale Azienda USL Umbria n.1

Email Address
City, Country  Perugia, Italy
Sector Elderly care


Therapeutic gardens as a design approach for optimising the healing environment of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

For the person with dementia, the world becomes an alien and threatening place, so the task of the operator, of the service, is to provide meaning to all this.

One of the practices that has been successful and has became to be used in Italy is the “Garden of new senses” also called as “healing gardens” which are effective sensorial garden from a therapeutic – rehabilitative point of view. It is a multi-sensorial equipped space in a natural environment capable of arousing emotions and the pleasure of discovery, while avoiding to arouse disorientation. The sensory path includes a fenced area with access gate inside which there are some paths that lead to emotional scenes, suitably constructed.

The project of a green and sensorial space has been experimented by the Day care Alzaheimer Centre of Madonna Alta (Perugia) within the Local Health Unit 2 (USL Umbria 1). The initiative has been also replicated in other local day care structure where elderly people affected by dementia are used to stay (Residenza Fontenuovo).

The use of colors, scents, flavors, sounds and the different types of contact surfaces have been designed to awaken the senses of the Alzheimer’s patient. The paths are sinuous but harmonious and well delimited, without corners and intersections to increase the safety of guests, with rest areas and landmarks. However, since it is a garden, the fundamental element is the presence of plant species that can interact with guests and therefore have therapeutic purposes. Some of the species awaken the taste, thanks to the abundance of fruits, others stimulate the touch, with leaves and flowers with different textures and textures, alternating pubescent, smooth, fleshy and rough surfaces. The sense of smell is stimulated by both aromatic and fragrant species. Hearing is stimulated by the flow of water, by birdsong, as well as by the rustle of leaves moved by the wind. The view, which most of all contributes to the attractiveness of the garden, is stimulated by the alternation and homogeneity of the colors. In fact, the garden includes subsets of species whose common feature is the color of the flowers in spring and of the leaves in the winter season.

Alzheimer’s healing garden is made up of two ellipses with golden proportions with soft colored flooring, anti-slip, anti-freeze and anti-reflective. In the sensory garden, the sick person can enjoy contact with nature in a safe and suitable context to facilitate their psychophysical recovery and the maintenance and strengthening of residual activities. The Garden of Senses was designed by Professor Aldo Ranfa, researcher at the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Perugia.

From studies conducted in Anglo-Saxon countries, in particular Canada, the United States and Northern Europe, in which the concept of “sensory garden” has developed and where this type of garden has spread widely, it emerged that the continuous use of a green area designed for this purpose may have proven therapeutic effects. In particular, the therapeutic effect has been ascertained with particular reference to those patients suffering from dementia generated by Alzheimer’s disease.

Plants also serve as strategic points of attraction, designed to stimulate the residual memory and spatial orientation compromised by the disease.


Treatment of a disability, illness or disease is any approach that reduces symptoms. Research has shown that other environmental design characteristics such as camouflaged exit doors; uniquely designed common areas and residential décor are associated with reductions in social withdrawal, agitation, aggression and delusions among people living with Alzheimer’s (Zeisel et al, 2004). The intention of healing or treatment gardens is to reduce sleep/wake disturbances and sun downing, and generally to regulate the damaged mental/body clock of people living with the disease. These results would be expected, given what we know about the brain and how it is affected.

The functional and aesthetic quality of ad hoc spaces, both closed and open, plays a decisive role, because it constantly recalls the value and inviolability of each person, recognizing his dignity together with who takes care of the dementia affected people. For this latter, working in functional, comfortable environments rich in aesthetic values also contributes not to waste psycho-physical energies and to maintain one’s motivation, and, consequently, helps and reassures patients and their family members.

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