A growing body of evidence attests to the many benefits of gardening for older adults. Enter ERS’s Horticultural Therapy program. Aimed at helping our community members remain healthy and independent, it is a natural extension of our commitment to the six dimensions of wellness and positive aging.
Here’s a closer look at why horticultural therapy matters, along with how we’re putting it to work at Marjorie P. Lee.
The Benefits of Horticultural Therapy
Anyone who’s ever worked in a garden knows it’s a great form of exercise. However, research published in the Journal of Housing for the Elderly suggests it’s much more than that.
“There are many practical and subtle benefits to gardening for older adults,” propose authors, Donna Wang and Allen Glicksman. “Specifically, the therapeutic benefits of horticultural therapy include lessening an individual’s sense of loss and providing opportunities for creativity, self-expression, social interaction, and sensory stimulation; improving self-esteem; practicing fine and gross motor skills, and improving eye-hand coordination.”
Wang and Glicksman further explain that gardening is both mentally and physically stimulating, as well as cognitively protective.
Gardening may also be a remarkable defense against Alzheimer’s. Recent studies suggest it could cut older adults' dementia risk in half by improving brain volume as well as boosting memory and cognition. For people already living with Alzheimer’s, meanwhile, gardening may help manage their symptoms.
According to research published in the academic journal Psychiatry Investigation, “Preliminary studies have reported the benefits of horticultural therapy and garden settings in the reduction of pain, improvement in attention, lessening of stress, modulation of agitation, lowering of PRN medications and antipsychotics and reduction of falls. These benefits are important factors in improving the quality of life.”
Even older adults with limited mobility can reap the benefits of gardening by being in nature. Research has shown that as little as 10 to 15 minutes of daily exposure to fresh air and sunshine lead to significant health benefits in older adults. That’s because sunshine increases vitamin D production, which helps build bones and muscles, prevents rickets, and decreases the risk of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Daylight can also regulate the body’s internal clock, supporting better sleep at night.
Gardening can also be an excellent opportunity to form social connections. Simply watching and enjoying the activity of others, as well as observing the changes of light, shade, sun and clouds and the growth of plants and wildlife is stimulating and engaging, no matter your age.
When it comes to boosting health and wellbeing through activities for seniors, horticultural therapy is a powerful approach.
Horticultural Therapy at Marjorie P. Lee
While there’s no denying that older adults benefit from gardening, many remain disconnected from nature and therefore miss out. ERS’s Horticultural Therapy program was conceived to bridge this gap. First launched as a pilot program at the Deupree Cottages, it then expanded to Marjorie P. Lee’s Assisted Living with Memory Support as well as Deupree House.
"The goal of the program is to help those individuals who may or may not be able to get out into nature be more connected to it,” explains AARROWOOD Plants & Flowers, LLC President Robert Evans, who developed the horticultural therapy program and now runs the classes at both Marjorie P. Lee and Deupree House. “This is achieved by working with individuals or groups in horticulturally related projects.”
Continues Evans, “We use seasonal potted plants and fresh-cut flowers in our sessions. Sometimes we use supplemental videos of gardens. The approach is to focus on mindfulness and become as aware as we can of our sensations during our projects. Often, it brings up memories from the past that are shared with the group. It also provides an awareness of the changing of seasons. The program is always changing based on the needs of the participants.”
“Gardening restores the body and soul,” says the Mayo Clinic—and horticultural therapy is accomplishing exactly that for our community members. You can ensure the continuation of this impactful program by volunteering or donating. For more other upcoming activities for seniors at Marjorie P. Lee, view our monthly calendar.