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Alzheimer's: when the garden heals and soothes

REPORTAGE – Created in 2010, the therapeutic garden of the Nancy Hospital is a green oasis where patients come to relax.

"Here the priority is not the garden, it is the patients: everything has been designed for them," says Philippe Ledogar, head of green spaces at the Saint-Julien hospital in Nancy, pointing to the honor transformed into a therapeutic garden since 2010. This closed space, a little less than 4 000 m2, planted with a double row of plane trees, sugar maples and caramel trees (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) – so named in because of the strong smell that emit their fruit in autumn – is both a haven of peace and a place of care for patients who come to relax. Mainly elderly people with Alzheimer's or serious diseases in the palliative phase or in rehabilitation.

"At the same time, we are welcoming about 50 patients for short stays of four to five weeks," explains Dr. Thérèse Jonveaux, neurologist and head of the follow-up care and rehabilitation service (SRH), who initiated the program. project in 2001, at a time when hortitherapy was stammering in France.

Picking cherries.

Picking cherries. SEBASTIEN SORIANO / Le Figaro

A free and secure space for walking

"The environment of patients at large is a crucial aspect, especially for those with diseases such as Alzheimer's, because it can aggravate or, on the contrary, improve the symptoms, she says. From this point of view, the garden, compared to the hospital with its long neutral corridors, codes and taboos, offers an extremely beneficial and stimulating space of freedom. "

The 2008-2012 Alzheimer's plan, which recommends the creation of therapeutic gardens, confirms Dr. Jonveaux and his team, at the moment the project is in the development phase. The goal is twofold: to create a safe and free space for patients, their families and loved ones to be visited 24 hours a day ("except when there is snow or ice") and to create positive emotions at home. contact of plants but also of friendly furniture and original artistic works installed in the massifs.

"We have of course kept the trees, the tree peonies, splendid at the time of flowering, as well as the four squares of the original garden, but by creating animations around the fundamental elements that are the earth, the air, water and fire, "explains Dr. Jonveaux in front of the red rose bushes and the spirea of ​​the square of the fire. In the middle of the hill made of volcanic stones raised to give relief, benches make it possible to sit and to recollect, without seeing the facade of the hospital, thus giving the impression of being elsewhere

"Conversation benches"

View of the courtyard of the hospital transformed into a therapeutic garden since September 2010.

View of the courtyard of the hospital transformed into a therapeutic garden since September 2010. SEBASTIEN SORIANO / Le Figaro

"The garden is a living place whose appearance changes depending on the seasons but also the weather, while the best decorated hospital room will always be a static, static place," said psychologist Émeline Nasson. There is also a whole sensory dimension with the scents, the colors but also the sound of the water from the fountains or the cherries or mirabelles that we will pick on the tree. "

Rehabilitation care (psychomotricity, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech therapy) is therefore carried out as much as possible in the garden: "It is more motivating for patients to walk outside in the middle of trees and flowers rather than 'in the reeducation room, even if the latter remains indispensable,' continues Émeline Nasson. The "conversation benches" designed by the sculptor Reinhard Fescharek also facilitate dialogue, meetings and contact with families.

The legibility of the landscape is also an important element. The pathways that patients take, especially disoriented people, must allow them to find themselves easily, without obstacles or cul-de-sacs, generating anxiety. Plantations, trees, sculptures, benches serve as landmarks. "When a plant is damaged or torn off, we replace it immediately so that it disturbs as little as possible," explains Philippe Ledogar, who spends half a day a week on the interview.

Shared experience with the Ehpad

For Dr. Jonveaux, the assessment is very positive: "For eight years, we find that the attendance of the garden reduces sleep disorders, so sedation, improves self-awareness, the perception of his body, frees speech , stimulates the senses and memory, bringing back memories. It is also a recovery area for caregivers. Many come to relax during their time of rest. "Today, as a pioneer, Dr. Jonveaux shares his experience with the Ehpad region wishing to follow his example. "The vast majority of these facilities have green spaces, but most of the time they are not accessible to residents for security reasons. It's a shame, because this potential is not exploited at its fair value, "she notes.

At the national level, therapeutic gardens have been on the rise for a number of years, although resistance remains. "Garden and gardening have not yet entered the cenacle of recognized and unavoidable therapies," said Anne Chahine, president of the Jardins & Santé association. A long work remains to be done to make their scientific benefits unquestionable. "



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