Therapeutic Gardening

Senior Couple Working In Garden TogetherGardens can promote exercise.  Apart from the physical benefits, even mild exercise elevates mood. Gardens offer a desired destination that prompts people to walk to and explore once there.  Gardening is a creative way for patients to rebuild weak muscles and ultimately regain independence.

Research shows that gardening for 30-45 minutes most days of the week has significant health benefits, such as decreasing the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as contributing to healthier bones, muscles and joints. Elements of gardening such as digging, weeding, trimming shrubs and mowing the lawn can require the same energy requirements as other physical exercise activities such as walking, cycling, swimming and aerobics.

Gardens can promote serenity and spiritual wellbeing. For many people, being in nature and interacting with the natural world, brings a sense of peace, tranquility, and feelings of connectedness – with self, others and a higher power.

Gardens can encourage social interaction. Social support enhances immune functions, promotes better moods, and produces better treatment compliance. Gardens can encourage this interaction if they are easily accessible to everyone in the community.

Gardens connect generations.  Through the eyes of your grandchildren, the birds and bugs in the garden become a lesson in biology. If there is not a garden at your current residence, take the opportunity to start one at a friends or family members home.

Gardens enhance a sense of control. We all need to feel that we have choices about what we can do.  There are times when a person has to give up much of that: we give up control over what we wear when we can eat and sleep and our privacy. Gardens offer a break from the outside environment.  Gardens can enhance a sense of control if they offer a variety of spaces to choose from-some private and some open, some sunny, some shady, some with background sounds, some without, and so forth.

Gardens can reduce stress and pain.  Studies show that those who garden on a regular basis show a reduction in stress, depression and anxiety; especially if the garden fosters exercise.  A higher quality of life and reduced pain in individuals was reported, resulting in reduced need for pain relieving and/or mood elevating medications.

Exposure to nature.  Sun exposure is important to Calcium and Vit D3!  At least 15 minutes a day, otherwise a supplement is recommended.  Nature also provides a respite from outside stimulus.  This reduces mental fatigue and refreshes the mind.

Adapted from the book, Healing Gardens, Therapeutic Benefits and Design Recommendations by Clare Cooper Marcus and Marni Barnes.

Recreation Therapy for Seniors: Beyond Puzzles and Bingo

Recreation Therapy for Seniors: Beyond Puzzles and Bingo

As older adults continue to age, it is important to keep in mind various activities that will keep them engaged and interacting with their surroundings.  Here are a few of the most popular activities and their benefits.

 Learning About the Internet

Older adults have a fascination with new technologies such as computers and the internet.  Born and raised in an era that had limited technology, they want to jump onto the bandwagon that the rest of the world seems to be on. Seniors are eager to learn basic skills such as using email and search engines such as Google.  The main benefit of learning to use the computer is staying in touch with family and friends who may live out of town. They are then able to exchange news and photos, and may even participate in live video chat with Skype to stay connected.


It is important to ensure that older adults are able to get out, either independently or with supervision, as their day-to-day routines can be very mundane.  An outing can range from a walk in the park, going to the grocery store or shopping mall, or going to a local theatre production.  Benefits include feelings of independence, a sense of freedom, and reduced boredom (Agarwal, 2008).

 Arts & Crafts

At first glance, an arts and crafts program for older adults may seem juvenile, so it is important that the caregiver chooses a project that is age appropriate.  Projects can be as simple as painting or drawing, or can be more complex, requiring several sessions to complete.


We often hear “What is good for the body, is good for the brain,” and it still rings true when you reach the golden years, and how a person ages is determined both by genetics and lifestyle choices.  It is important that older adults participate in regular physical activities, such as daily walks or a fitness program specifically designed for older adults.  Studies suggest that exercise can lower the risk of dementia by 50-60%, and decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 60% (Eckmann, 2011).  Other benefits include enhanced mobility, flexibility and balance, and decrease the risk of falling. 


Music can work wonders with older adults with dementia, depression, or aggressive behaviors, and I have seen first hand how a person’s mood can completely change simply by hearing the music that they enjoy.  Music has positive effects on everyone, the young and old alike.  To benefit most from music therapy, music choice is of utmost importance.  Music from an individual’s generation or that they can identify should be chosen.  Music has almost immediate effects on people.  Within minutes you will be able to see the individual’s mood change, they will engage in social interaction, and they may even start to sing along.  Benefits of music therapy include increased awareness and concentration, improved memory and recall, higher self-esteem, decreased pain, and will promote relaxation.


We all read the news, whether online or in the newspaper.  It is a way for us to stay connected with the world.  The same applies for older adults.  It helps them to stay connected, to know what current world issues are, and keeps them informed.  Benefits of reading, watching, or hearing the news regularly includes reality orientation, cognitive stimulation, improved memory recall, and improved mood. 

Animal Therapy

There are cases when an individual does not enjoy participating in group activities, dislikes socializing, and have become socially isolated.  Most of these individuals may benefit most from animal therapy.  There is a natural tendency for humans to form relationships with animals, even when the animal is not their own pet.  This natural tendency is what allows the relationships between humans and animals to form quickly.  Though there is a strong entertainment component in animal therapy, an individual can be stimulated in multiple ways, including tactile, auditory, visual and olfactory stimulation (Chandler, 2005).  Other benefits of animal therapy include lower blood pressure, reduced stress, loneliness, anxiety and depression, and increase confidence and socialization (Allado, 2011).

Intergenerational Connection

Intergenerational connection is a way of bringing the younger generation together with an older generation allowing them opportunities to interact.  This type of connection benefits older adults, youth, and the community.  By sharing their knowledge and experiences with youth, older adults can feel that they have impacted someone else’s life. It also encourages cultural exchange between the groups, allowing the youth to learn from the older adults and vice versa.  Most importantly, benefits for older adults include enhanced socialization, will stimulate learning, increase emotional support, and improve overall health (Generations United, 2002).

Christina Foutch, OTR
Clinical Director
Home Matters Caregiving

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