When my grandmother first moved into an assisted-living home, I was amazed by one of the other residents—a 98-year-old woman who took care of all the gardening at the home. I couldn’t imagine having the energy for all that work at nearly 100 years old!
It turns out that her gardening may have not only have been important for her but probably helped all the residents.
Gardens for Nursing Home Residents
A study with elderly nursing home residents showed positive results for the residents who spent time in a garden setting. Compared to those who only spent time indoors, the residents who spent time in the garden reported:
1) lower levels of anxiety
2) an increase in positive mood
Measurements of the residents’ cortisol (a stress hormone) levels confirmed these findings—the cortisol levels of garden participants were reduced by two and a half times those of the study’s indoor participants.
Alzheimer’s Patients with Access to Gardens
Another study followed patients with Alzheimer’s disease at five different care facilities for two years. Two of the care facilities provided patients with access to gardens, while at the other three, patients had no access to nature settings.
Over the two years, violent assaults by Alzheimer’s patients at the facilities with no access to gardens increased significantly (violence is a common occurrence amongst Alzheimer’s patients because the disease causes a person’s cognitive processes to deteriorate over time).
Meanwhile, at the two facilities with gardens, levels of violence amongst patients with Alzheimer’s stayed the same or even decreased slightly when patients were given regular access to the gardens.
The Bottom Line
There are deep connections between humans and nature. Well, really, we are nature. But in today’s world of technology and modern conveniences, it’s easy to forget this. Yet as these studies are showing, connecting with the natural world outside ourselves is deeply important to human cognitive development (see my previous posts about Green School Yards and the ADHD-nature connection), as well as our continued health and wellbeing—physical, emotional, spiritual—into old age.
Something to think about for sure! And perhaps bring into practice if you can.
Mooney, P. and Nicell, P.L. (1992). The importance of exterior environment for Alzheimer’s residents: Effective care and risk management. Health Care Management Forum, 5(2), 23-29.