The Therapeutic Power of Healing Gardens

Regardless of age or culture, gardens provide numerous psychological, physical, and healing benefits for seniors and veterans. Therapeutic gardens in healthcare settings, such as nursing homes and VA hospitals, are typically created using evidence-based design (EBD) based on the most current research available and have been shown to reduce stress and promote a sense of well-being for residents, patients, and visitors.

Benefits for Seniors and Veterans

Research shows that the measurable benefits of therapeutic gardens in healthcare settings can include lower blood pressure and improved immune functioning, better compliance with treatment protocol, and for veterans, therapy for Post Traumatic Stress. For these reasons, the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAHO) recommends that “All patients and visitors should have opportunities to connect with nature through outside spaces, plants, indoor atriums, and views from windows.”

What makes therapeutic gardens so effective?  

  • Distraction from pain and discomfort:Therapeutic gardens have been shown to distract patients from pain and discomfort. As an example, physicians at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida realized that some patients who could see—they didn’t even have to be in—the hospital garden had less pain, needed fewer medications and had shorter stays than patients without a garden view.
  • Reducing stress and anxiety: Therapeutic gardens provide a respite from stress and anxiety. They reduce mental fatigue and refresh the mind.  In a recent study of patients who underwent gallbladder surgery, half had a view of nature and half had a view of a wall. The half with the nature view tolerated pain better, slept better, reported less stress, and spent less time in the hospital.
  • Promoting exercise: Apart from the physical benefits, even mild exercise elevates the mood. Therapeutic gardens offer a desired destination that prompts people to walk there and motivates people to explore once they are there.
  • Promotion of serenity and spiritual well-being: 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. Connectedness is particularly important for seniors, who place staying connected as their top priority in The United States of Aging Survey.
  • Encouraging social interaction: Social support and interaction enhances immune functions, promotes better moods, and produces better treatment compliance. Gardens can encourage this interaction if they are easily accessible to patients, families, and staff and offer groupings of lightweight, moveable chairs.
  • Enhancing a sense of control: Gardens offer a break from the hospital environment, which in itself offers a sense of control. 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.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Therapy for Veterans:  Research at the Alnarp rehabilitation garden in Sweden has shown remarkable results for treating Post-Traumatic Stress utilizing both natural environments and a horticultural therapy program. There have been reported cure rates of 80%. Similar programs of natural environments and standard therapy are being developed and evaluated through research at VA facilities.
  • Respite for Caregivers and Family Members:  Therapeutic gardens are intended for a wider audience: not just patients, but visitors, family members, exhausted caregivers, and staff looking for a breather. Some support groups meet in healing gardens.

Therapeutic gardens are not a new phenomenon. In fact, they’ve been around from the Middle Ages to ancient Egypt and Greece to Japan (e.g., Zen gardens). As early as 1879, Friends Hospital in Philadelphia started a program for psychiatric patients who staff noticed were acting calmer after being in the ground’s gardens.

Don’t have a healing garden? Relax! Here’s what you can do:

  1. Create your own garden. It doesn’t need to be big and you don’t need all of the features (water, pathways, private sitting areas) to have a lovely oasis. If you need help, you can hire a landscaper.
  2. Call medical centers and ask if they have gardens. Go visit. If you’re considering a home mini-version, see what you like and what you don’t like. Or just enjoy.
  3. The next time you’re visiting a relative or friend in long-term care, take them outside. If there are gardens and pathways on the grounds, hang out there awhile. Walking around the grounds is good exercise for both of you.

We hope that you and your loved ones will take advantage of the therapeutic healing powers of gardens, whether at home, in a nursing home, or in a VA hospital.

Veteran’s Aid and Attendance

If you or a loved one is a Veteran, I am an Accredited Attorney with the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs who understands the Veterans Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit (for qualifying veterans or their single surviving spouse), and the Medicaid program and the interaction between both benefit programs (please note that I do not work with clients seeking service-connected compensation).  I work with clients to obtain the financial assistance to which they are entitled and enable veterans and their families to afford the type of long-term care that they need, whether home care, adult day care, assisted living care, or nursing home care.

Medicaid Asset Protection Planning

If you have a loved one who is in a nursing home or nearing the need for nursing home care or if you are looking to plan ahead for yourself, call us at our Virginia Elder Law Fairfax office at 703-691-1888 or at our Virginia Elder Law Fredericksburg office at 540-479-1435 to make an appointment for an introductory consultation.

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