Did you know that gardening can reduce the risk of dementia by 36% among seniors? Not to mention, it offers a plethora of other physical, mental, and emotional benefits that can improve their quality of life. So if you’re caring for–or care about–an older person, introducing this pastime might be a great idea.
In this article, we’ll dive into the many benefits of gardening for seniors and provide practical tips on how to get started–regardless of any physical limitations they may have.
Benefits of Gardening for Seniors
Gardening is an excellent activity with many health benefits for the elderly, including:
- Improved physical fitness, wellness, and longevity. Gardening is great exercise, which can increase energy and help prevent health conditions like osteoporosis, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
- Better flexibility, mobility, and motor skills. Gardening basics–such as digging, planting, weeding, and watering–require various movements, which can help seniors improve or maintain flexibility, mobility, and motor skills in joints and muscles.
- Stronger core muscles. The physical movements involved in gardening strengthen the core, which may improve balance as well as general fitness and strength.
- Lower blood pressure. Studies show that gardening may help lower blood pressure because it involves low-impact physical activity, exposure to nature, and increased vitamin D absorption.
- Increased access to nutritious foods. Seniors can grow and eat their own fruits and vegetables, which can further reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Mental and Emotional Health
- Improved mental health. Studies show that gardening can improve seniors’ mental health by providing a sense of purpose and accomplishment. It can even reduce symptoms of depression and other mood disorders.
- Reduced stress and anxiety. Spending time in nature and taking care of plants can have a calming effect on the mind and promote relaxation.
- Enhanced cognitive function. Gardening requires problem-solving, planning, and decision-making, which can help to keep the brain active and improve cognitive function in seniors.
- Socialization opportunities. Gardening can be a great way for seniors to connect and collaborate with other gardeners in their communities, helping them build a sense of belonging.
Health Factors and Risks of Gardening for the Elderly
As with any physical activity, gardening comes with some risks–especially for seniors. To make it as safe an activity as possible, it’s important to keep the following in mind:
Extended Sun Exposure
Make sure seniors in your care are using proper sun protection while gardening to reduce the risk of sunburn and skin damage. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 throughout the day, and don’t forget to cover the neck and backs of hands or wrists, if exposed. Wide-brimmed hats are also a good idea.
Seniors with poor peripheral vision may be at risk of accidents while gardening, such as missing a step and falling. Make sure to keep an eye on seniors in your care to ensure their safety.
Fluctuations in Body Temperature
Seniors’ body temperature might fluctuate while gardening–especially if you live in a warmer climate. This could increase the risk of heat exhaustion.
Make sure seniors in your care are drinking plenty of fluids and taking breaks as needed.
Improper lifting and lowering techniques can result in muscle strains, sprains, or even fractures. Furthermore, repetitive motions like raking or digging for extended periods of time can lead to aches in the arms and back.
Be mindful of the weight of bags of soil or mulch, and encourage seniors to use safe lifting techniques (such as lifting with their legs and not dumping weight into the back). And to prevent the risk of wrist and hand injury (or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome), encourage everyone to warm up with exercises that help improve flexibility and strength before gardening.
Exposure to Pesticides
Exposure to pesticides can lead to respiratory problems, skin irritation, and increased cancer risk, and seniors are more vulnerable to these harmful effects. That’s because, as we age, our bodies become less efficient at metabolizing and eliminating toxins. Seniors with underlying health conditions like asthma or a weakened immune system are at greater risk, as well.
Take precautions to minimize exposure to pesticides. Ensure seniors in your care are wearing protective clothing and gloves, using natural pest control methods when possible, and/or following pesticide label instructions carefully.
Gardening Help for the Elderly: Making Your Garden More Accessible
Here are a few modifications you can easily make to ensure the seniors in your care enjoy their garden safely:
- Lay down grass on pathways between garden beds instead of hard-floor tiling. This can help protect seniors in case of a fall.
- Use vertical planters and trellis space to make harvesting more accessible.
- Use potted plants or raised beds to reduce bending and stooping.
- Invest in adaptable pieces of equipment, knee pads, and padded gardening tools like sheers with foam to make them easier to grip.
- Provide shaded areas to reduce the risk of sunburn and heat exhaustion.
- Keep a few stable chairs in the yard area for breaks.
- Ensure seniors in your care are wearing protective shoes, comfortable clothes, and gardening gloves at all times.
- Invest in security gates and fences if an elderly person in your care suffers from memory loss and may wander off.
- Install a drip feeder system (a low-pressure, low-volume, automatic watering system) to make watering easier.
Easiest Plants for Seniors to Grow
Certain plants are easier to grow than others. To set your seniors up for success, here are a few recommendations:
- Cherry or grape tomatoes. These plants take up a minimal amount of space in the garden and continue fruiting throughout the season once they start.
- Bell peppers. These veggies take up a relatively small amount of space, and are easy to maintain.
- Beans and peas. Beans and peas are legumes, which have the ability to “fix” nitrogen from the air into the soil, making them less dependent on fertilizers. They also have shallow roots, making them easy to transplant, and they can be grown in a wide range of soil types.
- Cucumbers. These plants are easy to grow due to their short growing season, adaptability to different soil and watering conditions, and low susceptibility to pests and diseases. They can produce a bountiful harvest even if some plants don’t thrive.
- Zucchini. Zucchinis are relatively pest and disease-resistant, making them a great choice for beginner gardeners. They can produce a large harvest from just a few plants and are fairly adaptable to different soil types and watering conditions.
Get Your Senior Friends Gardening
From increasing physical fitness to improving mental health and overall well-being, the benefits of gardening for seniors are clear. And with the right tools and techniques, even those with physical limitations can get involved. So why not introduce the seniors in your life to this rewarding activity and help them experience everything it has to offer?
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