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Growing new life

October 9, 2017
by Nicole Stempak, Senior Editor
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Click to view photo gallery. Images courtesy Eldergrow.

Nature and the body

The benefits of working the land are well documented. In 2014, the University of Washington conducted a literature review of 99 studies on the benefits of nature and healing in the healthcare environment. Here are some findings:
  • Daily gardening reduced dementia risk factors by 36 percent.
  • People with dementia who had access to gardens were less likely to display aggression or experience injuries and had improved sleep patterns, balanced hormones and decreased agitation.
  • Patients with clinical depression who participated in routine therapeutic gardening experienced a reduction in depression severity and increased attention span that lasted up to three months after the program ended.
  • Patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain who participated in a four-week horticultural therapy program saw an increase in mental and physical health as well as improved ability to cope with chronic pain.
  • Hospital patients with plants in their room displayed less fatigue and pain, shorter hospitalization, less anxiety and higher hospital and room satisfaction.

The gardens are a place where residents and families can go during visits and can serve as a redirect tool for agitated residents with dementia. The gardens themselves are as much a focal point as the televisions or aquariums in lobbies or common rooms. As an added benefit, the gardens can travel around the facility year-round.

“I worked in senior care,” Concannon says. “A lot of places have beautiful courtyards. I saw that with my own eyes. What I also saw is these outdoor gardens were not available 12 months a year, they required special staff supervision and, in many cases, the residents couldn’t go outside without assistance or supervision. I think horticulture therapy will become a new standard in senior care the way that music and art therapy is.”

Eldergrow offers residents choice, autonomy and independence. The facility gets the garden, and residents choose what they grow themselves from a selection of flowers, herbs and vegetables. They get ownership and pride right from the beginning, Concannon says. 

And, over time, the plants are rotated out. Some plants are replanted or repotted around the community. Residents can even gift them to loved ones. Concannon says one community grew sunflowers and transplanted them into pots when they were too tall and about to knock the grow lights. One woman gave her sunflowers to her great-grandson to plant, and he is now responsible for watering them.  

“When in that environment can you go to the store and actually buy a gift for your great-grandson or your daughter?” Concannon says. “It’s difficult. It doesn’t happen, unfortunately. But to watch the residents gift something that they grew themselves to visiting family members is priceless. There’s nothing like it.”

Concannon says she knew she was on to something when she and three women were transplanting baby spider plants. She had some plant labels in her bag and asked if the women if they wanted to name the plants. The women chose Hope, Life and Sweetheart. 

“I knew there was something magical and spiritual happening,” Concannon says. “We are providing a special experience for residents.”