In 2016, two nursing homes in Scotland undertook a remarkable project. They created a group program for its residents to see what effects it would have. Administrators there took a scientific approach, studying residents’ reactions to various gardening activities – and they were excited by the results.
Residents were more engaged, both socially and in terms of focusing on daily tasks like caring for their plants. One woman spent more time outside, while another was prompted to start talking more about her grief and her love of nature. Another woman didn’t actively garden herself, but she talked with more of the people who were as she walked the garden pathways.
These benefits are just the tip of the iceberg. We’ve learned from this project and other studies that group activities in general can:
- Reduce loneliness in older people
- Encourage people to interact more with each other, further reducing loneliness and increasing their social engagements
- Reduce the risk of dementia including Alzheimer’s
- Increase physical activity levels
- Get more residents outside and out of their rooms more often
- Reduce pain
- Improve attention spans
- Lower stress
- Reduce agitation
- Improve a sense of community and inclusion
…and so many other inter-related benefits. In fact, “inter-related” is a key idea here. Group activities create a snowball effect of increasing benefits of more exercise, more socialization, and less isolation and loneliness.
Incidentally, studies also show that these benefits to residents have a positive effect on staff. It’s not hard to see that reducing stress and agitation in residents while increasing teamwork and community will help staff in their role as caregivers and supporters.
Copley at Stoughton doesn’t have a formalized gardening program, but we do have many group activities. We’ve seen firsthand how beneficial it is to get everyone out of their rooms, moving around, and socializing.
Still, it is reassuring when I see the benefits of group activities written in black and white. This year more than ever, we want to encourage everyone to take part. People thrive on social interactions, and making closer connections keeps us engaged and vibrant.
- P.S. – you can read about the Scottish gardens here.