The benefits of gardening don't stop at bountiful produce and beautiful blooms. Recent studies show that gardening is therapeutic for those with Alzheimer's and dementia, and reduces pain and stress levels, boosting overall quality of life.

By Jenny Krane
Updated July 11, 2018

Yoga and brainteasers aren't the only mental stimuli worth fitting into your daily routine. Recent studies about the benefits of gardening will encourage you to get outside and into the dirt, and many nursing homes and assisted living residences are on top of the trend.

Senior living and rehabilitation centers often have a therapeutic garden on their campus. These safe havens aim to facilitate interaction between the residents and the healing elements of nature. The gardens have been shown to aid senior residents with pain and help with memory, mood, and dexterity.

A 2012 study published in Psychiatry Investigation called “What Is the Evidence to Support the Use of Therapeutic Gardens for the Elderly?” outlines the benefits of therapeutic gardening as a whole and provides measurable health improvements seen in regular therapeutic garden users. See a few of the many reasons why gardening is gold for your brain.

1. Reducing Pain

You know that feeling when you take a hot bath after a hard workout? That's the type of feeling seniors, especially those with arthritis and joint pain, experience while gardening. Being in a natural setting reduces the consciousness of unpleasant stimuli, i.e. pain. Also, the risk of developing dementia increases with age as people become sedentary, which is why staying active is so important. Getting fresh air and exercise in a therapy garden is an effective and enjoyable way to get bodies moving, all while minimizing pain.

2. Increasing Levels of Attention

Whether we like it or not, gardening requires patience—before a tomato plant blossoms, it'll need a little TLC. Therapeutic gardens are no different: They increase levels of attention in seniors. Sowing a seed requires focus, watering is a routine-centered task, and weeding and deadheading take time. This cognitive process is proven to boost memory recall and reduce disorientation in older adults.

3. Reducing Stress

When you're stressed, sometimes all you need is a stroll around the neighborhood to relax. Getting out of the house is proven to reduce anxiety and improve mood, so it should be a go-to destination in difficult times. And that's why more and more retirement homes are providing residents with a safe outdoor space instead of having them cooped up inside.

One study monitored blood pressure, attention, and emotion after a stressful event, and had one group indoors reading and another outdoors doing light gardening. The gardening group reported a positive mood and lower blood pressure, suggesting that gardening could be just the trick for stressing less. But are we really that surprised?

4. Reducing Agitation and Increasing Independence

Wander gardens are a subset of therapeutic gardens, and they're just as "wander-ful" as they sound. These enclosed outdoor sanctuaries, designed specifically for seniors with dementia, are constructed with paths that lead directly back to the residential building. By doing this, residents can feel independent outside but won't get lost or confused when making their way back home. Not to mention most, if not all, plants are edible, so residents can talk a worry-free walk in the park.

5. Reducing Falls

As we get older, our bodies don't have the same bounce-back that we had in our younger years. Studies show that residents with dementia are up to 75 percent more likely to fall and hurt themselves—this is where therapeutic gardens come in to help. By planting, tilling, raking, and weeding in the garden, senior residents can get muscles moving while subconsciously practicing their balance. This, in turn, leads to a smaller chance of falling. One study even shows a 30 percent decrease in the number of falls in residents with dementia after their facility opened a therapeutic garden.


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