Horticulture Therapy Activities For Seniors
You don’t have to pay for horticultural therapy to enjoy some of the benefits. Here are five garden therapy activities which are beneficial for victims of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, children and adults with special needs, and active seniors.
Horticulture therapy, or garden therapy as it’s also called, is a well-established therapeutic method. It’s been proven to be effective at helping people of all ages, from children with autism spectrum disorders to adult war veterans with PTSD to seniors with Alzheimer’s, as well as giving a sense of hope and renewal to prisoners, rehabilitating victims of serious accidents, and helping the sick to heal.
You can find horticulture therapy and healing gardens in a number of places, practiced by qualified horticultural therapists. But you can also carry out some garden therapy activities yourself, to support and strengthen aging loved ones, to stimulate beloved relatives who are sufferng from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, as a way to bond with pre-verbal grandchildren, to improve manual dexterity, coordination, and muscle strength, and as a healthy occupation for yourself to keep your mind clear and recharge your soul.
Here are five horticultural therapy activities that are ideal for baby boomers to do at home.
1. Gardening Tasks
Ideal for: Active seniors; children with special needs; pre-verbal children or non-verbal adults.
What? Simple gardening tasks such as weeding, pruning and watering is good for you as well as your garden.
Why? Interacting with nature improves your mood (one senior said that he dealt with his troubles by looking after his garden), and the gentle exercise can form part of a healthy lifestyle. Gardening alongside a child or a non-verbal adult strengthens the bond between you and opens him or her up to new sensations and experiences.
2. Make A Container Garden
Ideal for: Individuals confined to a wheelchair; people who don’t have access to outdoor gardening space; seniors in climates where it’s too cold or hot for much of the year to spend time outside.
What? A container garden is what it sounds like: a miniature garden planted in a container. All you need is a container, soil, water and plants. Old washtubs make great containers for a miniature garden; so do broken planters, old tea trays, discarded wooden crates – anything that can hold soil and water can become a garden. Choose slow-growing plants so that your garden doesn’t outgrow its container too quickly, and use your imagination to put together creative, beautiful miniature worlds.
Container gardens can last for years. You can keep them outside on an old table-top, at an easy height for someone in a wheelchair to work on, or indoors on a windowsill or a plant stand.
Why? Making a container garden is highly therapeutic. It offers a great creative outlet, while working with fresh plants and soil is calming and boosts your mood. The need to tend the tiny plants improves manual dexterity and muscle strength, while decision-making and long-term planning skills are reinforced by the need to plan ahead.
Tending a container garden that sits near a bed or armchair has a dual positive effect on an elderly individual or hospital patient. Experiments have proven that people heal better when they are in a room with plants, while caring for the garden restores a sense of identity and strength to a person who is usually receiving care.
3. Turn Your Outside Space Into A Sensory Garden
Ideal for: Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Children with autism spectrum disorders and developmental disabilities.
What? If you have access to some garden space, turn some or all of it into a sensory garden. Take care to include herbs and flowering plants for scent; grasses that rustle in the wind and a water feature for distinctive sounds; trees and tall shrubs to add shade and the visual effects of sunlight filtering through the leaves; plants and flowers in a variety of colors and textures to increase the visual stimulation. You can include edible plants, vegetables, and fruit trees to add the dimension of taste to your sensory garden.
Remember to place benches and seats at intervals so that elderly visitors can sit down to enjoy the effect.
Even small patios and balconies can be turned into a sensory garden. Just use hanging baskets and line the edge of the balcony with special balcony planters that attach to railings to hold your sensory plants. You’ll want to choose smaller, slow-growing shrubs and herbs for a balcony garden, but place some taller plants in pots along the back of the balcony to hide the walls and add shade and sound effects. You can buy miniature fruit trees, too.
Why? If you have loved ones who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, make a special memory sensory garden by choosing scented and edible plants that will remind your loved one of his/her childhood. For example, the scent of roses and lavender in the sun; a lawn sown with daisies so that he/she can make daisy chains; an apple tree that brings to mind childhood trips to the orchard; a sandpit so he/she can remember vacation trips to the beach, etc. The familiar sounds, scents and sights of nature remind seniors of the way things once were, and the extra mental stimulation has been proven to be beneficial for victims of dementia.
4. Flower Arranging
Ideal for: Elderly seniors with limited mobility and/or in a senior care home; hospital patients; anyone in a wheelchair and/or who needs to strengthen manual dexterity.
What? Flower arranging may sound Victorian, but in the world of horticultural therapy it is bang up to date. Simply gather some colorful and/or scented flowers, a vase that isn’t easy to knock over or a lump of floral foam, and some safety clippers.
Note: Do make sure that it’s safe for your loved one to use flower clippers. Supervise as necessary.
Why? Working with fresh flowers in a variety of colors stimulates the brain and improves the mood, and the sense of achievement that comes from enjoying the finished floral arrangement is priceless for self-esteem. The tasks of clipping the flowers and arranging them in a vase or a lump of florist’s foam also improves manual strength and dexterity.
5. Craft activities using scented herbs and flowers
Ideal for: Children; seniors suffering from dementia.
What? There are many charming and simple craft activities that can be carried out using natural items such as fresh flowers or dried grasses, but activities that use scented herbs have a particular advantage. Try using lavender, a relaxing herb which often brings back memories of childhood, or roses to recall Shabbos table flowers and wedding bouquets. Some crafts include making herbal potpourri, or herbal sachets to place in drawers and closets to scent your clothes.
Why? Smell can recall memories far better than sound or sight, and they have a deep power to soothe or stimulate, depending on the scents that are chosen. For dementia victims, smell can restore a sense of self, as it can bring back memories which can’t be retrieved through conversation, and to an extent can stimulate the mind again.
Although some of these activities may be designed to help people suffering from a particular issue, they a beneficial to everyone, no matter how healthy or weak they are. Don’t overlook the positive impact that gardens and horticultural therapy can have on your physical, mental and emotional health. Take the time to do an activity along with your loved one or to go out and enjoy your own garden. You don’t have to be sick to be healed.