This morning I heard “Farmer Deb” from Urban Roots on KUNR. Urban Roots is a non-profit teaching farm in Reno that strives to change the way communities eat and learn through garden-based education. “Farmer Deb” was talking about the physical and mental health benefits of horticulture therapy gardening for those with Alzheimer’s as well as overall benefits of gardening for folks in general.
For those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, active gardening can help them reconnect with positive emotions and long-term memories reminding them of a healthier period in their lives by engaging all of their senses.
They can feel more involved in life. Gardening can improve their overall sense of well-being. HT for people with dementia can reduce aggressiveness, depression and raise self-esteem and improve memory. It helps improve attention and reduce agitation.
Whether for someone with dementia or not, gardening can often reduce pain (when done carefully), anxiety and stress.
One obvious benefit to any participant, including those not suffering from dementia, is the actual physical exercise. And, when gardens include vegetables and fruits, diet may be enriched. Time outside in the sun increases vitamin D exposure, lowers blood pressure and often reduces heart rate. Gardening with others establishes and reinforces social connections important for everyone to stay healthy and happy.
Horticulture therapy can teach those with dementia new skills or help them regain lost ones. It gives them a sense of responsibility of caring for plants. I know gardening relaxes me and gives me a sense of peace. I’m sure many of you feel the same. Those feelings don’t necessarily disappear when one has dementia.
Just being in a garden or green space without actually working is also beneficial for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia because being out in a natural setting stimulates the senses. For any gardener, particularly elderly ones, being in the sun, whether working in a garden or merely walking or sitting, can help a person sleep better. Even indoor gardening has similar benefits.
The loss of strength and stamina attributed to aging is in part caused by reduced physical activity. Gardening provides so many avenues for exercise. It strengthens multiple body parts, improves balance and endurance. It can increase range of motion and lower blood pressure.
We can improve the quality of our lives by using and moving our bodies. I can’t think of a better way to do this than by spending time working in my yard and garden.
— JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.