Gardening is one of those activities often recommended to and associated with older adults. But is there actual science behind why it might be beneficial, or do we only associate seniors with gardening because of some collective idea of what being “elderly” entails? Older people like checkers, bingo, and gardening, right? Well, we challenged the ideas behind those stereotypes and did some research into the science of gardening and its specific benefits for older adults, especially since horticulture therapy (gardening as a rehabilitative tool) is on the rise. It turns out that gardening is good for more than just filling time and getting outdoors. It has some very significant health benefits, as well.
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Gardening Through the Ages
Gardens have been a source of peace in many cities throughout the past thousand years, including ancient Babylon and Egypt. Today, gardens continue find a place in spas and resorts, but their benefits are usually leisure-based rather than work-based.
In the late 19th century, Benjamin Rush (known as the father of American psychiatry) documented the positive effects that garden work had on individuals with mental illness. Studies have continued through to the present, with research focusing on benefits for veterans, troubled youth, and the elderly population.
Benefits of Horticulture Therapy
What comes to mind first when we think of physical benefits of gardening? Fresh air? Reduced stress? Increased mobility? Those things are true, but you might be surprised by some of its other benefits. Horticulture therapy has been linked to increased bone density because of increased vitamin D absorption (due to time spent in the sun outdoors), improved sleep cycles, improvement in attention, reduction of chronic pain, and reduction of falls. That last one is particularly important given the number of falls in the over-65 population.
As for psychological benefits, gardening and horticulture therapy have been linked to alleviating depression, decreasing anxiety, increasing a person’s sense of stability, and increasing sense of control. Dementia patients, in particular, showed decreased aggression with access to gardening. Programs have begun to show up in assisted living and long-term care facilities, but you can also reap the benefits of gardening therapy at home.
Gardening at Home
Here are a few tips to get the most out of gardening health benefits:
- The more senses engaged, the better. Colorful blooms, different scents, and a variety of textures create a good sensory experience that can help jog memories and reduce agitation.
- Use raised flower beds to avoid bending beyond the level of stability.
- Plant some herbs you can dry and use for cooking, crafts, or design projects.
Have you or a loved one gotten involved in gardening or horticulture therapy? Have you seen benefits?