Plant and Outdoor Therapy: Worth It for Seniors?

Senior Care, Senior Living Leave a comment , ,

Whether it’s tending to a plant in their room, enjoying houseplants in communal residence areas or having exposure to greenery in the great outdoors (even through a window), seniors see undeniable benefits. And while you may agree from your own experience that you seem to feel better when Mother Nature is nearby, research proves that it’s affecting you in ways you probably never imagined.

Lower Your Risk for Getting Sick

Plant roots take up water, push it out to the leaves, and release some of it via evaporation. This process, called transpiration, accounts for about 10 percent of the moisture in the atmosphere. When you bring a living plant inside, the same process adds humidity to the air in your home.

In dry climates and winter months, this humidity reduces your risk of dry skin, colds, sore throats and dry coughs, according to a study at the Agricultural University of Norway. Other research has found that the flu virus prefers dry air for optimal survival and transmission, so lower your flu risk by growing plants indoors.

Air Filtration

Experts at researching air in sealed environments, NASA found an unexpected air quality improvement.

“Both plant leaves and roots are utilized in removing trace levels of toxic vapors from inside tightly sealed buildings,” say NASA researchers. “Low levels of chemicals such as carbon monoxide and formaldehyde can be removed from indoor environments by plant leaves alone.” To be effective, NASA studies suggest one plant per 100 square feet of indoor space.

According to the space agency’s research, the top 10 plants to clean the air are: peace lily, golden pothos, English ivy, chrysanthemum, gerbera daisy, mother-in-law’s tongue (also known as snake plant), bamboo palm, azalea, red-edge dracaena and spider plant. Check here for more air-cleaning plants and information regarding their culture and care.

Healing Power

Bringing a plant or flowers to someone recuperating from surgery may seem uninspired. However, one study at Kansas State University recommends them as an effective complementary medicine for surgical patients that have the added advantages of being noninvasive and inexpensive. Viewing plants during recovery, according to the study, produced significant improvement in physiologic responses, demonstrated by lower systolic blood pressure and patient reports of lower pain, anxiety and fatigue when compared to patients without plants or flowers in their rooms.

Patients with plants or flowers gave more positive feedback about their rooms and evaluated them with higher satisfaction ratings when compared to patients in similar rooms with no plants. Patients with plants also gave higher rankings to hospital caregivers.

Better Memory and Attention Span

While few studies have looked at the effect of plants on indoor environments for seniors specifically, there is evidence from research in office and school settings that plants make a dramatic difference in memory retention, concentration and productivity. Being “under the influence of plants” increased memory retention up to 20 percent, according to one University of Michigan study.

“Keeping ornamental plants in the home and in the workplace increases memory retention and concentration,” note researchers at Texas A&M. “Work performed under the natural influence of ornamental plants is normally of higher quality and completed with a much higher accuracy rate than work done in environments devoid of nature.”

Horticultural Therapy and Outdoor Settings

Abundant studies have shown that garden settings provide numerous benefits, including a reduction in pain, stress, agitation, and falls; an improvement in attention, sleeping patterns, and vitamin D absorption; and a decrease in the need for antipsychotic and “take as needed” medication. Not only do these factors improve quality of life, but they may reduce costs in a residential setting.

Designed for dementia patients, wander gardens are a new take on an old concept. All plants in the garden are edible, the garden itself is enclosed to prevent straying, and all paths lead back to the residence. One study found that inappropriate behaviors of patients at a locked facility decreased substantially within 30 minutes of their finding the unlocked door to such a garden.

One company that started out designing therapy gardens for patients in hospital settings branched out to assisted-living communities. Designs for Generations owner Jack Carman, tipped off by his wife who works in geriatric management, studied how therapeutic gardens could affect mental behavior, especially among people with cognitive disorders.

CSA Blog: May 22, 2018

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