Written by Joanne Hubbard, Associate Executive Director/Assisted Living Director, The Kensington White Plains

The Kensington White Plains promises to love and care for our residents as our own family. One of our hallmarks to achieving that goal is enriching each day.  We believe in providing the most engaging, meaningful, and innovative life enrichment programming.  Our rich activities program is at the heart of the well-being and emotional health for our residents. Connectedness, communal living, and essential elements of home, including access to green space, are key elements to our success.

We are creative and innovative, and we find a way to engage even during COVID!  One component requiring the most creativity and resourcefulness is gardening.  Why is gardening or green space so important?

From our own experience we can undoubtedly tell you that most of our residents love being in nature and participating in gardening. We even suggest all our residents enjoy some aspect of gardening, whether it be cultivating from seed, being in the presence of nature, watching plants grow or enjoying the harvest on their plate. We see their excitement.  There is nothing more heartwarming than our residents excitedly anticipating what their garden will deliver each day, the chatter of residents talking about how wonderfully the plants are growing, problem solving when they are not taking, reminiscing about their own gardens, and preparing their own farm to table cuisines.  It is amazing to see some of our residents with severe dementia checking on the garden each day.  Yes!  A self-initiated act requiring short term recall.  Indeed, this fills our hearts.  I’m getting ahead of myself and sharing the fruits of our solution too soon. Enough of our sentiment, what does research have to say?

 

Cathy Jordon, PhD, Consulting Research Director for Children and Nature Network, summarizes 16 studies in the February 2021 issue of Research Digest “The pandemic, particularly restrictions limiting nature access, has had deleterious effects on mental health and physical activity…”  16 studies focused on children and youth and evaluated the negative impacts of COVID restrictions and the role of greenness. Undoubtedly you have seen and heard media representations of the detrimental effects of COVID restrictions on the senior community.  “Access to nature during lock-down improves coping and mental health outcomes…This study also found that views of nature became more important when direct contact with nature was severely limited.” Pouso, S., Borja, A., Fleming, L. E., Gómez-Baggethun, E., White, M. P., Ulyarra, M. C., (2021). An international study found that “a greater severity of lockdown during COVID was associated with greater odds of depression and anxiety, but that contact with nature reduced the odds.” We knew this information long before COVID.  A 2016 study on positive aging and gardening found “…gardening was an important form of activity and engagement for older adults, which they saw as critical to their well-being and to ageing positively.” Scott, T. L, Masser, B. M, & Pachana, N. A. (2016). A 2017 study found “gardening activities (GA) on old people with dementia: in particular, GA have been found to reduce stress and the incidence of inappropriate/disruptive behaviors, increase engagement and social interaction, improve quality of life, improve sleep and increase feelings of calm and relaxation. (Fumagalli, N., Senes, G., Betti, G., Bottani, F., & Porta, S. (2017). Wow! This research project broke gardening down into 18 different activities such as planting seeds, plant caring, harvesting and protocol included one hour of gardening one day per week. More than 90% of the participants completed all 18 tasks and yielded a very good score of 4.5/5. That is amazing.

 

You are waiting with anticipation for our solution with perhaps as much anticipation as our residents waiting for their seeds to pop. Our thought, why not bring the outdoors in? How can we do this safely and accessibly? The perfect solution is Aeroponic Tower Gardening. Tower gardens allow you to grow your own fresh, nutrient rich fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers without soil.  Even better, they can be grown indoors. As a vertical garden, the tower maximizes the use of space.  The crops grow 30% more healthy and three times faster which satisfies that amygdala desire for speedy gratification. Since the amygdala is the part of the brain that remains most intact and progressively more predominant as dementia progresses, perhaps that is why some of our residents with severe dementia recall day to day to check-in on the tower growth.  When that amygdala fires, neurons activate and increase retention. Back to the tower…The baskets are automatically watered about every fifteen minutes and provide relaxing water flow sounds.  Tower gardens are designed for and by the environmentally conscientious.  Towers recycle 100% of nutrients and water and use roughly 98% less water than traditional gardens. The reservoir is completely contained and covered so the system checks all the boxes for safety.  In our systems we grow only edible items and if a resident ingests on their own, it is completely safe.  There are also no pots to break or dirt to eat… another safety check mark.  The towers are located in each memory care neighborhood at The Kensington White Plains, plus the assisted living portion of our building so all of our residents have access to our fruitful tower gardens.

We see increased mood, participation, initiative, happiness, engagement, socialization, and autonomy in our residents since implementing tower gardens.  Our residents enjoy harvesting and making salads, bruschetta, smoothies and other delicious creations.

Did you know one of our residents once cooked for Mother Theresa? To think we enjoy a meal made by the same chef as one who served Mother Theresa is mind blowing!  You see, the garden goes far beyond a garden for the sake of having a garden.  It provides an outlet for our residents to actualize their personhood. A chef is once again a chef.  A gardener once again tends their crops.  A lover of nature watches with wonder and gratification as seeds pop and flourish into a bounty of goodness.  There is something to look forward to each day.

For more information on Tower Gardening at The Kensington, contact dporchi@kensingtonsl.com or jhubbard@kensingtonsl.com

 

References:

Fumagalli, N., Senes, G., Betti, G., Bottani, F., & Porta, S. (2017). Defining a therapeutic gardening activities protocol for elderly people living at nursery homes. Acta horticulturae, , 333-338. doi: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2017.1189.64)

Pouso, S., Borja, A., Fleming, L. E., Gómez-Baggethun, E., White, M. P., Ulyarra, M. C., (2021). Contact with blue-green spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown beneficial for mental health. Science of the Total Environment, 756 was severely limited.”

Scott, T. L, Masser, B. M, & Pachana, N. A. (2016). Positive ageing and gardening: development and testing of a gardening survey measuring benefits of leisure gardening. Acta horticulturae, , 1-6. doi: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2016.1121.1

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