This morning I received an e-mail from a caregiver whose grandmother lives in an assisted living facility.  “Grandma’s” son had been bringing flowers and plants to help brighten up her room but was recently asked not to do so anymore.

Here is the e-mail from the grandson:

“My Grandma lives in an assisted living facility and  is suffering from dementia, It’s usually not a problem except that she might ask the same question over and over – which is really not a problem at all.

My Grandma has always loved flowers and plants.  She has her share of fake plants as well.  Recently, however, she has begun watering the fake flowers and fake plants and even watering a pen that has a fake flower coming out the back!

What can we do so that she doesn’t feel the need to water fake things thus creating messes?

I appreciate any input you may have and thank you for all the work you do.”


Here is my answer:

Dear P.A.

I’m sorry to say that in your grandmother’s case,  the easiest solution is to remove all plants, both real and artificial, and anything else that resembles a plant or flower.  Perhaps some paintings of flowers that are hung on walls may brighten the area and still be safe from being watered, although careful attention will need to paid to that as well.

Perhaps she could be enlisted to help water the plants in the lobby or when weather permits, the plants on the patios (with supervision, of course).

Because of the short term memory loss suffered by dementia patients, they quickly forget what has been watered and in the case of fish (do not introduce a fish tank into her immediate environment), cats and other pets, what has and has not been fed.  As your family has noticed, the line between what’s real and what isn’t also becomes blurred as the disease progresses.

You mentioned that your grandmother is in assisted living and that raises a concern.  Is she in an assisted living facility that specializes in memory care?  Is her room easily available to staff who may need to help her and is she checked upon frequently?  Is there anything in her room (or apartment) that could pose a danger to her, such as a stovetop or microwave or even a toaster?  You would be surprised  what persons with dementia will attempt to do with these appliances.  She could easily be burned.  If she’s watering plants, then she has enough time to accomplish other activities, some of which may not be in her best interest.

Does the room have adequate lighting and are all unused electrical outlets plugged with childproof covers? Are cords secured to baseboards?

Are the exit windows locked and secure (60% of people with dementia WILL wander).  Does she wear a safe-return bracelet or pendant?

Are her medications kept outside of her room and given to her by professional staff members?  They should be.

Is her room checked for clutter frequently so that falls are less likely to occur?  Have all throw rugs been removed (another tripping hazard)?

I wish that I had a better solution to offer as a replacement for the plants and flowers because having something to tend to helps to give a person a purpose in life.

I would love to hear if anyone else had dealt with this situation or  has any ideas that may help!


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