Posted in biology, design and architecture

Zen gardens good for Alzheimers

We’re getting into the brain sciences a little bit today.

First, more proof about how awesome gardens are (or something like that):

RUTGERS (US)—Japanese gardens appear to offer tangible relief to late-stage Alzheimer’s patients and other vulnerable populations, new research shows.

Seiko Goto, assistant professor of landscape architecture at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers, says that in a preliminary trial, after brief periods of sitting in a Japanese garden, Alzheimer’s patients experienced reduced stress and enhanced well-being.

“Japanese gardens can be very small and installed indoors,” says Goto. “They can be put in anywhere at low cost. If they reduce stress, this could mean lower healthcare costs, less medicine, and fewer calls to the nurse. This could have huge implications.”

Goto and Karl Herrup, professor and chair of cell biology and neuroscience, surveyed residents at the Medford Leas Continuing Care Community in Medford, N.J. The facility has a series of courtyards with 32 gardens, and residents were asked which they preferred.

“The Japanese gardens scored highest. The herb gardens scored lowest,” says Goto. “Japanese gardens significantly reduced stress. We confirmed this with a heart-rate test comparing the Japanese garden, the herb garden, and an unstructured space with a single tree.”

Why the difference? In short, the subtle nature of the herb garden wasn’t appealing to older people, who typically have poorer vision.

“People who didn’t like the herb garden said it was ‘weedy,’ Goto explains. “A Japanese garden has a viewpoint, shade and sun, and a meandering, natural flow for the eye.”

Goto recently created a small Japanese garden in a room at one end of the Alzheimer unit at the Francis E. Parker Memorial Home and introduced several residents to the garden during 15-minute sittings twice a week. In these brief exposures, “interesting things happened,” Goto reports.

Read on for results…



Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.

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