Remember those satisfying afternoons of working outdoors in the garden? Covered in dirt, sweating from the work and smelling like fresh soil, these are happy memories for many of our Aegis Living residents. Due to physical limitations, many seniors will give up on the demands of a large garden. But keeping your aging loved ones involved in gardening, no matter how small, can have an impact on their health and personal wellbeing.
“Gardening is a wonderful stimulating activity for our residents,” says Dr. Shirley Newell, Chief Medical Officer for Aegis Living. “It can help improve joint health in their hands, reduce stress, encourage social interaction, help with mobility, and give them a sense of purpose as they nurture a growing garden.”
Researchers are studying how activities that involve nature, such as gardening, are proving to be therapeutic. Published in HortTechnology, a study examined the impact of indoor gardening on elderly residents of assisted living communities. Researchers found that a basic horticultural activity, as simple as maintaining a house plant, can have a positive effect on their quality of life, feeling less lonely, and a greater sense of happiness when caring for a living plant.
Further research has included findings on the impact of gardening for seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s. The study by Midori Yasukawa in 2009 found that the activity of gardening and horticultural therapy can alleviate symptoms of dementia, provide a higher quality of life, and improve cognitive function.
This Earth Day, how can you integrate more activities involving nature into your home and daily life with your aging loved one?
- Think small. Starting plants from seed or starters can easily be done indoors at a table so your loved one is comfortable to sit and work. They will find joy watching their little plants grow before being taken out into the garden.
- House plants. Shop with them for a house plant for their room. Give them the responsibility and satisfaction of its care and watering.
- Herbs garden. Herbs are wondering plants to touch and smell. They easily grow in small areas either indoors or outdoors. Plant a few herbs and work together on incorporating your crop into recipes for meals, snacks, or salads.
- Go outside. The therapeutic effects of nature and fresh air is proven, so find ways to encourage your loved one to go outside. Perhaps start a small garden area or plant pots on a balcony or patio. Involve your loved one is selecting the plant choices, colors, and their care. At Aegis Living, we have incorporated raised garden beds that are high enough for our residents to reach easily from a wheelchair or to sit and garden to reduce stress on their backs. You may want to consider a vertical wall garden or trellis in your home, so seniors don’t have to stoop over for long periods.
- The right tools. Seniors can assist you in your garden by watering, racking, sweeping, or planting but you may want to make sure they have the right tools to make their time more enjoyable. Paint gardening tool handles in a bright color for those with poor vision to find much easier. Purchase seed and seed tape to make planting much easier. Provide them with a portable chair, stool, or bench to work from while outside. Long handled or curved handled tools can also provide better grip for arthritic hands.
- Time at the park. Not everyone has a green thumb or the space for a garden, so a good alternative to enjoy nature is a walk in a local park or public garden. Bring along a pair of binoculars and a plant guide-book to make the walk more interactive. Light walking can also have a positive impact on their health and longevity.
- Fresh flowers. Depending on your loved one’s mobility, they can cut flowers from the garden or you can bring inside your home-grown cut blooms or flowers from the market to arrange together. Flower arranging is a creative activity that can’t go wrong. Your loved one with dementia may find it soothing to sort flowers by type or color.
- Stay protected. If you are going to garden outside, remember to apply plenty of sun block for both you and your loved one, stay hydrated, avoid the hottest parts of the day, wear sunglasses, long sleeves, a wide-brim hat, and gardening gloves.
Enjoy the bounty of your garden, herbs from your window sill, or the beauty of a house plant to brighten your day and improve the health of your family and elderly loved ones.