Down to Earth - by Madison Co. Master Gardeners

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Gardening Activities with Seniors

March 2017

Most people would agree there is a connection between gardening and health.  This extends to all ages, including residents of assisted living or long term care facilities.  Gardening activities provide physical exercise of gross and fine motor skills.  Cognitive functions such as concentration and decision-making are stimulated.  Gardening also affects psychological health.  Elderly residents gain a sense of self-worth and responsibility from tending to simple gardening tasks.  Perhaps the most significant benefit is the opportunity for social interaction.  Following are a few conversation-starting activities to consider when visiting an elderly friend or relative:

  • Tend to a houseplant – Simply placing a small, low maintenance houseplant in a resident’s room can elevate their mood.  Research has shown that people heal faster physically and emotionally in a room with plants.  Caring for a houseplant can restore a sense of identity and purpose to someone who is receiving care.  
  • Arrange fresh flowers – Involve an elderly resident in arranging fresh cut flowers in a low, sturdy vase.  Smell and color stimulate the brain and improve mood.  During this activity, ask about the flowers they remember from gardens in their past. 
  • Create a miniature garden or terrarium – Assist an elderly person in arranging soil, plants and figurines in a low container or terrarium.  Planning and deciding the layout of this miniature garden will provide a sense of creative achievement.  The finished product can be pruned, rearranged and enjoyed during subsequent visits.
  • Make potpourri sachets – Provide small bags and potpourri to create fragrant sachets.  Lavender, vanilla, rose or chamomile are calming scents.  Smell can restore a sense of self as it brings back memories which can’t be retrieved through conversation.

Other ideas include planting paperwhite bulbs, making a pinecone/peanut butter bird feeder, sorting seeds, pressing flowers, decorating a grapevine wreath or straw hat with flowers or planting an orange or grapefruit seed.
Before starting any activities with an elderly resident, check with the staff at the care facility regarding the appropriateness of what you are planning.  Commit to regular visits to maintain any live plants you have placed in the resident’s room. 

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