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Idaho Enterprise

ElderGrow program brings therapeutic horticulture to Longterm Care

As the result of a three year grant from the Idaho Helath Care Association secured by Nell J Redfield employee Cindy Dawson, the Longterm Care facility officially kicked off a new ElderGrow program based on the principles of therapeutic horticulture for its residents.  A representative of the organization, Customer Success Manager Jen Oliver, was on hand to help kickstart the program.  The local program director will be Katy Maughan, who was not available for the initial opening of the program.

“Therapeutic horticulture is an amazing idea,” Oliver said.  “It engages all the senses, and it’s been found to help reduce a lot of the negative outcomes of aging.  It’s been shown to reduce dementia, increase memory and fine motor skills, among other things.”

The program essentially creates an indoor structure for culturing and raising a variety of plants, many of which were turned over to the residents for initial planting.  The indoor planter box allows for the growing of herbs, vegetables, starts, and a whatever plants the residents are interested in growing.  Other than the provision that the plants need to be non-toxic (which means unfortunately that tomatoes—a member of the nightshade family—are out), the residents are able to choose from a wide variety of plants to take on as projects.  

The Longterm Care facility, as Cindy Dawson explained, already has a vibrant outdoor garden, where the fruits of this summer’s labor are now on full display.  But for some of the residents, the ability to care for plants inside the comfort of the facility is a major bonus.  The easy accessibility of the materials and the ability to watch the progress of the garden projects from inside will expand the number of residents who can participate.

“The science is pretty clear,” Oliver said.  “There was a famous experiment called the ‘Room with a View’ that showed how helpful plants can be.”  The experiment, conducted in 1984, correlated patient outcomes with their exposure to views of the outdoor world, and exposure to natural vegetation.  The study found that the more patients were exposed to views of the natural world through window views and natural light, the better their outcomes were.  Similar experiments have found that direct exposure to living plant life can boost a number of patient metrics.  “Smell, for instance, can be an amazing memory trigger,” Oliver said.  As part of her presentation, Oliver passed around a live mint plant, asking patients to pinch the leaves between their fingers and smell.  For some patients, the joy in encountering a smell so tied to memories was clear.  As a group, there was a lot of excitement about the potential for the garden.  

The ElderGrow program uses a large wooden planting structure with a soil basin and grow lighting to allow for the planting, maintenance, and cultivation of plants inside the facility itself.  The planter boxes themselves are constructed by Veterans and adults with disabilities as a part of ElderGrow’s plan to improve the lives of as many people as possible.  Residents are able to choose their own plants to grow, and the group as a whole is in charge of the daily watering and care.  A journal is maintained in conjunction with the planter box to allow residents to keep track of the water schedule and make notes as to the growth and health of the plants. 

Katy Maughan will be on hand twice a month to check in with residents on their progress, as well as host classes on a variety of topics, including planting, soil issues, cooking projects, art projects, and even a “mocktails” class utilizing the herbs grown in the planter box.  A “Happiest and Healthiest Garden” award will be each month to the ElderGrow garden deemed to have had the most success during the month.

By the end of the first afternoon, residents had taken turn planting a number of plants, and planning for the upcoming growing season.  “I love it!” said resident Lousie “Boo” Anderson.