This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, many seniors are staying home so they can limit their exposure to COVID-19. But, after you’ve watched a billion reruns on television and baked all the bread and other goodies you can think of, what’s next? Try gardening!
Gardening for seniors has excellent physical and mental health benefits. It’s also a great way for seniors to get outside and take in some Vitamin D3, which is being touted as a way to keep your immune system healthy.
Physically, gardening helps seniors stay flexible (it’s all that bending, stretching, and stepping around plants). Another benefit is endurance and strengthening, obtained by moving bags of dirt, pushing wheelbarrows, carrying watering cans, and dragging hoses around the garden. In turn, that activity burns calories and promotes good eye-hand coordination, which helps to stimulate nerve connections in the brain that relate to many everyday activities.
Mentally, gardening reduces stress and anxiety by lowering cortisol levels and raising serotonin levels (the feel-good chemical) in your brain. It also provides a purpose, which goes a long way toward improving a person’s level of happiness and life satisfaction.
Additionally, studies have shown that gardening can aid in holding off cognitive declines, like dementia and Alzheimer’s. In one study, researchers found that “the most physically active women halved their risk of developing dementia from vascular disease, compared to women who were physically completely inactive, says Nancy Biazulchuk in her article on ScienceNordic.com.
Gardening Tips For Seniors
One thing to watch for when gardening is the summer heat:
- On hot days, try to tend the garden in the morning or at the end of the day when it is cooler.
- Bring a jug of water into the garden and be very sure to drink often to stay hydrated.
- Limit the time in direct sunlight to about 10 minutes at a time and only garden two to three times per week.
- Make sure to wear the proper clothing. Put on stable shoes (no sandals or anything that can slip off easily) and wear a large brimmed hat to keep the sun off of you. Also wear gardening gloves and use bug spray.
- Keep a first aid kit handy for the inevitable splinters or cuts that can happen while gardening.
- Organize tools like rakes, trowels, and spades by hanging them up on hooks in the garage or carport. Also keep them organized while using them in the garden to avoid tripping over them. Be especially careful when using power tools!
Making Gardening Easy For Seniors
If your elderly parent (or a senior you know) has had to reduce how much they work in their garden or they’ve stopped it all together simply because it isn’t safe for them any longer, here are some tips to make it easier and less risky for them:
- Be sure the garden is accessible if the senior is in a wheelchair or using a walker or cane. A solid cement walkway would be best, but if that isn’t possible, put down large, square pavers, then cement them together to create a walkway that’s as smooth as possible.
- Raise the garden through either a raised garden bed, container gardening, or vertical gardening via window boxes on a patio wall or deck railings. There are even vertical plant “pockets” you can buy and hang on a fence or a patio wall (see image to the right or click on the image to view the product online).
- Look for ergonomic gardening tools if you or your senior loved one have arthritis or other dexterity concerns. You should look for tools with larger than normal handles that have non-slip grips and you’ll also want to consider the weight of the tool (lighter is better).
- Use a kneeler bench or something like a gardening trolley to sit on while gardening. Many come with a hidden storage box so you can carry all your gardening tools and other paraphernalia out all at once.
- Weeding tools can help a lot. I use a garden “claw” that you twist to loosen weeds and it has saved my back many times. Consider not weeding if you have poor balance or your upper body strength isn’t good, though. It’s not worth the risk of falling.
- Use a gardening apron to keep small tools within reach and out from under your feet.
- If you live alone, I strongly recommend wearing a medical alert device and TAKING IT INTO THE GARDEN WITH YOU! My 93-year-old aunt often tells me how she gets out into the yard and up on her steep hill to garden while my cousin (who lives with her) is at work. “Do you take your Life Alert out there with you? Or your cell phone, at least?” I ask. Invariably she responds that she know she should, but forgets to take it out. What if she falls, though? How long will she lay there before he comes home and finds her? I shudder to think of the risk she is taking!
It’s important for seniors to be able to do the things they enjoy for as long as they are physically able. Whether you’re the senior or you have an elderly parent moving in with you or aging in place in their own home, take the time to assess needs, wants, and functional ability so you (or they) can enjoy gardening safely.
You can read more about the gardening products we recommend in this article.