A Green Thumb Can Add “Spring” to the Steps of Seniors


Apr 20, 2012 | Programming & Outreach

Providing seniors with optimal quality of life is the goal of retirement communities nationwide, but often times, some of the simplest enhancements to their health and happiness can be overlooked. Natural elements such as plants function as great décor throughout healthcare communities in an attempt to soften the room and provide a calming atmosphere, but there is more that can be done with plants to improve the health and well-being of senior residents. As demonstrated in a study at Texas A&M University, scientists are beginning to investigate the potential beneficial biological influences of horticulture in the life of today’s seniors.

While some adult children may recall spending the day outside with their parents on a warm, summer day in an attempt to make their flower garden complement the house or prepare a vegetable garden to produce enough for a day or two of canning, it is easy to believe those positive feelings are simply nostalgia. After reviewing the results of the Texas A&M study, however, it is easy to see why seniors should be taking advantage of this relaxing and advantageous hobby they already love.

The study’s 17 subjects, ages 71-98, included residents of both personal care homes and long-term care facilities. Different treatment options to assist with mobility, such as canes, walkers and a wheelchair, were distributed throughout the group, as a simple way to prove that many of the best therapeutic pastimes can be enjoyed by individuals at any mobility level. Furthermore, results were gathered from participants who were involved in indoor gardening, in addition to the more traditional outdoor growers.

Research was gathered regarding the participants’ mood, whether positive or negative, anxiety and salivary cortisol, a biological indicator of stress. According to this study, prolonged exposure to high cortisol levels has been associated with hypertension, osteoporosis, muscle atrophy, fatigue, depression, lowered immune function and coronary heart disease.

After analyzing the results from the study, researchers concluded that the improvements in moods, anxiety and cortisol levels were better for those subjects who had access to outdoor gardens in comparison to those subjects confined to the indoors. While this news is encouraging for those seniors renting cottage homes or villas in the many retirement communities throughout the country, those living in apartment-style assisted and independent living facilities shouldn’t hesitate to adorn their rooms with some beautiful, natural and low maintenance greenery and enjoy tending it.

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