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    Hospital garden is a haven for dementia sufferers

    Patients with dementia will find an oasis of calm in a new garden at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital.


    The garden, which opened earlier this month, sept 5 features a “stories telephone box”, a cabinet of scent and a sound system playing music from bygone decades. The garden was designed by Gardener’s World TV presenter and author Toby Buckland.

    “It was great to have someone of that calibre to work with us,” said project co-ordinator Stephen Pettet-Smith from Exeter Healthcare Arts.

    The design is an imagined Devon village green with a circular walk and a central pavilion where music and drama can be performed.

    The seating has images from the 1940s to 1970s. A vintage red telephone box allows patients to make “calls to the past”. When they pick up the receiver and dial a code they will hear inspiring tales from the past. The local stories were collected in the 1970s by Jenny Lloyd. They have been scripted by Helena Enright and are performed by actors.

    A sort of “timelapse” jukebox plays music from the past and a cabinet of scents is filled with evocative fragrances such as lavender heads, rose petals and a bar of coal tar soap. The journey from ward to garden is included in the project, with the walls of corridors covered in images such as an old train journey and film posters.

    Julie Vale, the hospital’s acting consultant nurse for older people, said: “One of the things we are hoping patients will benefit from is a reduction of some of their symptoms, such as anxiety and frustration. The garden will not slow the progress of dementia but it will alleviate some of the distressing symptoms.”

    She said that when they were testing the jukebox, an elderly man came out of the ward and started dancing to the music, and they had difficulty persuading him eventually to leave.

    The project was awarded £141,000 funding from the Department of Health through the “Dementia Challenge”. It has also been selected by the department as one of 15 NHS schemes to be used as a case study to inform future policy and strategy.

    A hospital spokeswoman said: “Given the region’s significant aging population, dementia care is something that is at the top of our agenda, and we are looking at new ways to assess and care for patients with cognitive impairments.

    “The garden will provide a space where clinical staff can undertake mobility and cognitive assessments, with features to prompt memory and discussion.”

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