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Mankato garden provides peaceful retreat for seniors with memory loss

Once a week, residents of The Pillars meet with student volunteers at Living Earth Center on Good Counsel Hill, and it’s proving to be beneficial for everyone involved.
Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 2:36 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 19, 2021 at 6:03 PM CDT
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - Once a week, residents from The Pillars Senior Living make their way to the massive Living Earth Center gardens in Mankato.

“We want to make it a welcoming environment, where the individual is greeted with smiles and warmness and just a welcoming atmosphere,” Kristen Abbott-Anderson, associate professor at MSU-Mankato’s School of Nursing, said. “Really, it doesn’t take much. It’s not rocket science.”

With a group of student volunteers, participants browse the gardens, taste and smell the herbs, produce and flowers, and chat.

Living Earth Center executive director Laura Peterson sees the conversations facilitated in the gardens every day. She says it’s the perfect environment to bring people together.

“One of the coolest things about this partnership is that patients and their caregivers can come up and they can have a sense of, in a lot of ways, peace,” Peterson said. “It’s a really peaceful spot. But there’s also something that happens when you’re able to touch and feel and smell whatever is growing. There’s a sense of life and energy that I think is really, really important.”

At first glance, it looks like a group of friends, talking and laughing and hanging out. But ask staff -- something much more meaningful is happening on Good Counsel Hill.

“The residents remember their visits to the garden long after they’re back home,” Anderson said. “And they’ll talk about how much fun it was just to be in the garden and to talk and to share and to laugh and enjoy the scenery. And then when it comes time for the next visit, and they hear they’re coming to the garden, they get so excited.”

The group meets each Monday in July, and will meet every Tuesday in August at 10 a.m. All local seniors with dementia or memory loss are welcome to join.

The public is invited to browse the gardens any time, or join for regular classes and workshops. You can learn more about the Living Earth Center’s programming on their website.

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