It’s long been known in the medical community that gardening can have a positive effect on patients dealing with depression, chronic pain, stress and a host of other ailments. One of the first studies, by Dr. Benjamin Rush, a pioneer in American psychiatry, demonstrated several positive outcomes that mentally ill patients experienced after spending time gardening. Today, it even has a name, horticultural therapy and more and more assisted living centers are turning to it to see how it can specifically benefit the elderly.
It doesn’t take a medical professional to realize the benefits of gardening, from a strictly physical sense. Spending time in a garden, whether planting flowers, weeding, or harvesting a crop of tomatoes will bring benefits like better breathing due to the fresh air, better mobility from the exercise and better sleep patterns from being exposed to sunlight. But wait, there’s more. Multiple studies have shown that especially with elderly patients, access to a garden or other natural environment can help with bone density, dementia issues and emotional health. Sunlight naturally increases Vitamin D production, which is crucial for keeping bones healthy. Patients suffering from dementia showed less aggression and agitation and engaged more in social interaction when they were able to spend time outdoors in a garden setting, or, alternatively, indoors with plants and flowers.
Elderly residents of assisted living facilities and even some in skilled nursing homes can benefit from regular time in a garden. This population is especially at risk because of the danger of falls in the over 65 age group. In 2013 the CDC estimated that there were approximately 2.5 million non-fatal falls. Of those, about 734,000 patients had to be hospitalized. Sadly, there were over 25,000 deaths from unintentional fall injuries in older Americans in 2013.
One assisted living center in Casper, Wyoming went to great lengths to bring gardening and horticulture to their residents. They imported a small greenhouse from Germany and are growing vegetables that are now part of the menu in the dining room. Residents spend time tending the plants, harvesting the produce and using the flowers to brighten up rooms and common areas in the facility. It was a group effort to bring the program to the center; residents worked together to raise the funds necessary to buy the greenhouse, plants, seeds and other gardening equipment. Through bake sales and craft fairs the residents and even some staff at Meadow Wind Assisted Living raised $8,000 to cover the costs.
Executive Director of Meadow Wind, Chris Mahoney said he’s very proud of the efforts the residents have put forth for the landscaping of the property. There’s even a new happy hour at Meadow Wind. Residents gather weekly to share fresh tomatoes and peppers grown in the greenhouse, talk about world issues and gardening tips and spend a little social time. For this care home and many more like it, the benefits of gardening, growing flowers and vegetables or even just keeping out the weeds in potted plants are as plentiful as their harvests. Check out the video below to learn more about the residents of Meadow Wind and their plants.