With age, we become more vulnerable to physical limitations, poor health and the difficult emotional struggles that accompany these changes. For this reason, therapeutic gardening blossoms as a welcome activity for independent seniors, as well as residents in assisted living communities.
An article published in the quarterly journal Psychiatry Investigation titled “What Is the Evidence to Support the Use of Therapeutic Gardens for the Elderly?,” by Mark B. Detweiler et al., gathered information from various studies to prove the benefits of therapeutic gardening. Highlights include:
Physical Activity – Gardening is considered one of the best opportunities for seniors to get their exercise. Planting, daily pruning and watering and even just walking through a garden can help them stay physically well, promoting muscle movement, coordination, heart and lung health and flexibility.
Pain Reduction – Spending time in nature can reduce how much people perceive pain. Detweiler et al. claims that the sensory stimulation provided in a natural setting can actually keep us from noticing unpleasant feelings, both physical and emotional. This offers a natural pain reliever for those suffering from chronic illnesses, long recoveries, joint pain, etc.
Studies have shown that patients recovering from surgery not only need less medicinal pain relief, but also recover much faster when given access to nature. Simply bringing plants into the hospital room was enough to provide these benefits.
Improved Attention – Therapeutic gardening can help improve attention span and the ability to concentrate. Being engulfed by the colors, textures, smells and sounds in a garden stimulates our involuntary attention, which allows the mind to wander and clear itself without causing fatigue or stress. Using involuntary attention reserves the mind’s energy and helps us pay “voluntary” attention when we need to concentrate.
Reduced Stress – Studies show that being in nature can improve how our bodies react to stress. Seniors suffering from stressors such as health concerns, mobility problems, loneliness and grief can benefit greatly from spending time in a garden. Nature provides a sense of calm and reassurance through growing things and pleasant surroundings.
Empowerment – Working in a garden can give seniors a sense of control in their lives. For many, aging involves increased dependence on others, which can impact their self-esteem. However, tending to living things gives seniors independence, knowing that their actions can make things grow. They can watch as their flowers bloom or their tomatoes ripen and enjoy a feeling of accomplishment in what they’ve done.
Socialization – Gardens are wonderful tools for building a strong community. For example, residents of an assisted living community gardening together have so many opportunities for connection, especially since their garden gives them both literal and figurative common ground! Flowers, herbs and vegetables that they grow can be shared among the community, connecting residents to caregivers, cooks, visitors and each other.