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Lighting a spark: Chatfield Farms offers fun for those with memory loss

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By Deborah Swearingen

June Reid held up a potted spearmint plant, relishing in its minty fresh scent.

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“Oh, I like that,” June said with glee. “I’d like to take that home.”

On April 3, the 97-year-old Centennial resident was one of about eight participating in the Spark program at South Jeffco’s Chatfield Farms. The program is part of a partnership between the Alzheimer’s Association and the Denver Botanic Gardens that offers sensory-friendly, garden-related activities for people with mild memory loss.

In the Green Farm Barn — colored a deep red, despite its name — last week, participants made their own tea bags with freshly dried herbs from the garden. They chose from spearmint, chamomile, linden, lemongrass and more, filling a coffee filter with heapfuls of aromatic herbs and tying the homemade tea bags with creatively designed tags. Afterwards, the group mosied over to the on-site farm to catch a glimpse of the pigs, goats and mini-horse.

Other monthly Spark program activities have included painting pumpkins picked from Chatfield Farms’ patch, making terrariums and arranging flowers.

For those with memory loss, activities such as these can play a crucial role in maintaining health and activity. It wards off boredom and allows caretakers and patients a chance to get out of the house and partake in something fun.

“It’s going to keep them engaged,” said Sheryl Quiatchon, early stage program coordinator for the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado. “The great thing about these activities is they’re with other people like themselves. So they’re making connections, sometimes long-term connections to help them through the progression of the disease, for example.”

This is exactly what June loves about the Spark program, and it’s why her daughter, Debbie, continues to bring her to Chatfield Farms.

“Oh, I like being out. I just like being out around people. I like people,” June said.

“I have a good time,” she added. “I mean, you might as well enjoy.”

According to Quiatchon, the gardening program at Chatfield Farms is one of many Spark programs offered by the Alzheimer’s Association. The association also partners with other cultural centers to offer music- and art-related activities.

Horticulturist Angie Andrade has been involved with the Spark program for years and said it’s important to create activities that use a variety of senses.

“A lot of people have memories of plants,” she said, noting activities such as last week’s tea bag making can help spark these memories by eliciting the senses.

Participants on April 3, for example, could smell the fresh herbs, feel the plants’ leaves and see the various shapes and colors. And for some, the sensory fun didn’t stop with just three senses. After confirming it was edible, June even took a quick nibble of a leaf.

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.