A diverse and creative activity program is not only a great selling feature for a senior living community, but also a way to maintain resident satisfaction and retention. Orla Concannon, founder of Eldergrow, points out that “a lot of people, when they’re moving out of their homes, are leaving behind a garden that they cultivated for decades.” A horticultural therapy program in your community not only helps new residents transition into their new home, but can help support current residents’ health and wellbeing.
1. Elevated Mood
Many people who live in northern climates are familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which causes depression and decreased energy during winter months when people don’t get enough sunlight. Orla points out that deprivation of nature causes similar ailments. Studies show that people who participate in horticultural therapy experience elevated mood and a reduction in depression for up to three months. “I’ve used gardening as a redirect tool when a resident is stressed, and you can see a complete 180 degree change in mood when you mention checking on the garden,” Orla adds. The garden’s scent, floral colors, textures, tastes, and sounds also help to elevate mood and stimulate the brain.
2. Decreased Risk Factors
We know that family history and age are risk factors for dementia, but so is overall cardiovascular health. An NYU study from 2005 looked at patients who were in cardio-pulmunary rehab and were also participating in therapeutic gardening. They found that their patients’ heart rate decreased immediately following a horticulture therapy session. The patients saw a lift in mood as well. A separate Australian study from 2006 showed that gardening on a frequent basis was found to reduce the risk factors for dementia by 36%!
3. Improved Motor Skills
Orla believes that gardening can be considered a gentle form of physical therapy. Gardening has been shown to improve bone mineral density and improve dexterity in those with arthritis. “Physical activity is not only healthy for patients, but one of the challenges in healthcare is the huge cost. Sedentary patients increase the cost. If we can get people mobile, even it’s as simple as digging in the soil, that’s a win.”
4. Stronger Sense of Purpose
While researching horticultural therapy and how to make it more available to those living in a senior community, Orla spoke with seniors to get their perspective on horticultural therapy. “One woman said to me, and I will never forget this, ‘Orla, we have so much time on our hands and we spend all of our time looking backwards. Whether it’s with fondness or regret, but gardening is one thing that helps us to look forward.’” An effective horticultural therapy program will also allow residents to contribute to the community and to their families, whether it’s by growing herbs that the chef can use, or growing a gift for their loved ones. Orla shared one of her favorite stories where she helped a resident grow sunflowers in an indoor garden. As the sunflowers grew tall, they transplanted one of them into a pot so that 92-year-old Ella could give one to her visiting great grandson. The sense of mutual joy and accomplishment for Ella were palpable and shared with her entire family.
Using these benefits, a horticultural therapy program can be a big selling point for your community and should be a regular stop on your tour for any gardeners. If gardening isn’t currently one of your community’s activities, utilize any expert gardeners among your residents and get planting! Gardening can be done year-round with a little expert help and planning.
About the Author
Orla’s passion for eldercare began when her Irish grandmother spent her last years in a nursing home. She saw the need to connect elders living in facilities with the healing properties of nature and studied the evidence-based benefits of horticultural therapy. Orla recently graduated from Seattle University with a Healthcare Leadership Executive MBA. Orla created Eldergrow as her business plan and won several awards for her innovative indoor gardening products and services. For more information about Eldergrow visit www.eldergrow.org or visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Eldergrow.
Does your community utilize horticultural therapy? Discuss your tips below in our comments.