Benefits of Gardening for the Elderly
How a bit of green can bring a new lease of life.
Your golden years. That’s what they’re supposed to be, right? A time when you don’t have to work. When your kids have flown the coop and started up coops of their own. When you can enjoy your retirement free from stress and business and… any excitement whatsoever.
Am I right? Because even though I’m a long way off retirement age, I know plenty of people who have entered their “golden years” only to find that they’re not quite so golden after all. They wind up being bored. And feeling depressed. And not knowing how to fill their days.
After all, there’s only so much golf one person can play!
But a little gardening can make a massive difference
It has major benefits for people of any age. All that fresh air, the light exercise, the effects of the sun (when it appears) are great news for your health and happiness.
And for those who are stressed-out, gardening is a way to cultivate a more mindful, calm way of being. Is it the joy of getting your hands dirty? Or is it creating something beautiful? Whatever the reason, gardening is a pretty soothing experience.
For elderly people, whether they’re living independently or in a care facility, gardening is especially beneficial.
Want to know why? Ok, go on then. I’ll bite.
4 benefits of getting out and gardening:
Of course there are hundreds of benefits to gardening no matter your age. But below are four that we think could make a real difference in particular to the life of any recent early retiree or even a 99 year-old knitting nana.
1. Come on, colour therapy!
People bring (or used to bring) flowers to a hospital room for good reason. It’s the same reason husbands bring flowers home to their wives after a particular prickly fight. Why? Well, because flowers add warmth, light and colour to an otherwise sterile atmosphere. (If only Mr Greenfingers knew that little secret!)
A beautiful garden gives a splash of brightness to grey days, a dash of hope in feelings of lethargy and depression. And if you’re the person cultivating this colour, this beauty and brightness – well, it’s bound to be uplighting, right?
Suddenly, that person who has just retired, whose kids are all grown up and who’s seeking some new purpose has just found one. They can feel playful again, encouraged to express themselves in whatever mad colours and combinations they like.
I knows all about colour therapy, having made the decision a few years back to wear yellow as much as possible. Not only does it put me in a good mood but I feel like it affects my interactions with others, too. After all, it’s hard to shout at someone who’s dressed like a tropical fruit, right? (Right?!!)
So bring that pantone psychology into the lives of your elderly loved ones. Get colourful, get creative – and who knows what glorious things can happen?!
2. Green space = ace!
Relationships are often fraught with breakdowns in communication. Therapists make their livelihoods from it. And if we just listened to each other, many of our problems would cease to exist!
But when you engage in a meditative, “flow-state” activity like gardening, you learn to be more mindful. You become focused on the task at hand, drowning out the constant chatter and worries of your mind. Eventually, you become more mindful and aware of what’s happening in the present moment. So whether your partner is complaining about work, sharing a funny story from the day or asking your opinion about an outfit, you’re able to stay fully present. To listen to what they have to say.
Most importantly, if you don’t happen to like what it is they’re saying, you’re able to respond, rather than react. Well done, you.
The really cool thing about gardening together is that you’ll both develop this mindfulness. So you can have grown-up discussions rather than heated arguments. Listening to each other’s opinions and trying to understand your different viewpoints, instead of trying to hurt each other with catty remarks. It’s a much healthier form of communication – any therapist worth their Himalayan Rock Salt will tell you that – and gardening is a great way to learn it!
3. It gets them out and about
Did you know that there’s actually a thing called dementia gardens? Well, there is. And these spaces are becoming pretty popular in assisted living centres. Because spending time in a less clinical and institutionalised environment, where patients have more freedom and space, has led to some pretty great results: namely, decreased isolation and depression and improved social interactions among their peers.
This concept can be applied to any care facility, really. Because residents get to enjoy a sense of community as the garden comes together. Even a sense of ownership as they get to be the caregiver (of plants and wildlife) for a change!
But what if the elderly person in question doesn’t live in an assisted living centre or care facility? Well, even more reason to get them outside into some open space! Better than spending their time watching crappy daytime TV, or relying on their children/grandchildren to “entertain them” for a few hours.
Elderly people can take control of their gardens. They can be proud of everything they’ve achieved to create them. And they don’t have to go far for this sense of achievement – it’s waiting right outside their door. (Psst: If they don’t have any extra space to play with, community gardens can be a really valuable alternative!)
4. Healthy brains = happy hearts!
Gardening isn’t just a physical activity. Nope, the act of gardening can actually boost cognitive skills, improve attention span and increase brain volume and grey matter. Amazing!
You know how elderly people are recommended to keep their minds sharp with activities like crosswords? Well, they are! And gardening offers the same benefits as these brain games – probably with less frustration and shouting over a particularly tricky 10 Across.
Oh, and there’s good news on the physical front, too. (Yay!) Because gardening can mean fewer falls and injuries, while direct sunlight can build bone density and improve sleep cycles. Great news for elderly folk who might have trouble reaching SnoozyTown.
Final thoughts: Green up your golden years
Gardening is a great activity for all ages. Whether you’re 7, 17 or 77, there’s nothing like getting some fresh air, working hard to create something beautiful and enjoying the fruits of your labour!
For elderly people in particular, gardening gives them a sense of purpose and value, an activity to focus on and the chance to find a new community. Not to mention all those great benefits of colour therapy. 😉
So toss your loved one’s zimmer frame aside (gently!) and give them a watering can instead.
Get them out into the garden and who knows – they might feel 10 years younger in no time!