Seniors benefit from regular gardening exercise. Gardening stimulates the brain, helping to strengthen memory and lessen the effects of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Gardening also is a gentle exercise for muscles, helping to stave off osteoporosis and maintain maximum mobility. Even more, fresh air and sunshine are a natural antidepressant and immune booster.
To give gardening help for seniors, find ways to help while respecting their desires. Provide safe, age-appropriate gardening activities. Use raised beds if possible and provide seating for use during gardening tasks. Plant a variety of flowers and vegetables to encourage gardening activities.
It is important for family, neighbors, and caregivers to understand the importance of gardening to the health and happiness of seniors. It is also important to ensure safety during gardening activities. Some seniors need home garden help but refuse to ask for help or reject help that is offered. This difficult situation can be navigated gently and carefully, bringing outdoor beauty and stronger relationships to everyone involved.
The most important factor in any gardening venture with seniors is to pay attention to safety while working outdoors.
- Be sure that unstable seniors have railing and stability bars in place to move about the garden and pathway areas safely. Provide walking sticks, canes, or walkers as needed, and supervise their use in the garden.
- Check gates and fences for holes that may let in dangerous animals. A senior who is surprised by a wandering dog is likely to fall and get hurt.
- Locking gates are essential for seniors suffering from memory loss. A senior may wander away from the garden area and get lost or injured. Double-check gates and latches before bringing seniors outside.
- Before going out with a senior to do gardening, check over the ground for squirrel, mole, and gopher holes. Smash molehills down and fill in gopher and squirrel holes to protect knees and ankles from twists, sprains, and breaks.
- If you are planning a new garden, build raised beds for ease of gardening in the future. This keeps gardening tasks at a safe height for seniors and will greatly increase their participation, safety, and enjoyment.
- Provide sun protection. While some sun is a wonderful immune booster and antidepressant, too much sun will burn and cause exhaustion. Seniors should be clothed for sun protection and wearing protective hats that shield the scalp, face, and neck from sun exposure.
- Provide adequate hydration. Seniors often do not pay attention to symptoms of dehydration. Further, they will often prefer less hydrating drinks such as coffee when they feel thirsty. Be sure to provide plenty of water, lemonade, ice tea, and other refreshing drinks during outside work.
Choose Plants for Interest
Seniors love gardening for all different reasons and love all different kinds of plants. If you are a caregiver or family member planning to help with gardening in an established yard, you may still choose to add brightly colored flowers or a few favorite vegetables in a garden patch for both nutrition and renewed interest. Spend time planning with the senior before you begin gardening. Collaborative efforts are the most rewarding.
- Choose brightly colored flowers that bloom in different seasons. This will help to provide varying beauty and visual interest throughout the seasons. Shrubs such as roses need minimal care and will bloom for years. Bringing brightly colored fresh bouquets inside will also help fight depression in the indoor spaces.
- Choose vegetables that the seniors love to eat. Choose one or two favorite vegetables to grow in the garden patch. Grow only a plant or two of each. This will simplify the care and maintenance of the garden. This also ensures that the produce of the garden will be appreciated by the seniors.
- Choose healing herbs. You may consider growing clarifying, healing herbs in the garden such as rosemary, Greek oregano, thyme, or tulsi. Some of these plants can also be brought indoors and have a beneficial cleansing and uplifting effect on indoor air. Inhalation of rosemary has been shown to fight memory loss.
Choose Appropriate Tasks
It is never a good idea to put seniors in charge of getting down and doing strenuous tasks such as weeding. Those tasks will be ones that you and your helpers will be doing while reserving more enjoyable and less strenuous tasks for the seniors.
- Provide a chair or bench that can be moved so that the senior can either sit and work or sit and take frequent breaks to help prevent exhaustion.
- Have the senior water plants, prune plants and flowers, or harvest vegetables.
- If you have planned a raised garden, then weeding tasks will also be safe for a senior on a bench or chair and working at an elbow-height planter.
Seniors Who Don’t Want Help
Sometimes seniors who are living at home need help with gardening but refuse to ask for help or get offended when help is offered. This is a difficult situation for family, friends, neighbors, and caregivers who truly want to give help to seniors for yard upkeep.
It is important to approach this topic slowly, carefully, and with tact. Take the time to have long conversations about the yard and gardening with the senior. Listen and ask questions to help identify why the senior is refusing help.
- Some seniors feel guilty about being unable to keep up the yard work that they started when they were young and energetic. While this slowing is a natural part of aging, they feel responsible to keep up what they started, even when it is physically impossible. They feel ashamed to ask for help.
- Some seniors are worried that they cannot afford to pay for yard help. They may want the help but assume that they will need to pay, and they feel they can not afford the help.
- Some seniors feel that allowing people into the yard for maintenance is an invasion of their privacy and personal space. It is important to respect this fear but work to dispel the fears gently and slowly. Forcing yourself into the action will only reinforce this fear of privacy invasion.
- Often seniors feel that getting help means a loss of independence. When they have worked a lifetime to be independent and self-sufficient, needing help can seem like a failure. Instead of help, reframe this as time together, a fun time in the garden, or having a nice time outside.
- Seniors often see offers for help as subtle control takeovers. They feel that if they accept the help that they are losing control over their lives or will soon lose control. Make sure the senior is always at the helm, and work your desires for help around what makes them comfortable. Never run roughshod over their opinions.
Helping Seniors Who Don’t Want Help
Once you have identified some reasons for a senior’s reluctance to have help with yard work, it is time to work at finding ways to help without disrespecting their wishes or increasing their fears. Sometimes family members force their way into the situation, disrespecting the senior’s wishes, causing bad feelings, and breaking down relationships.
- Start slowly. There are more important things in life than how long the grass is growing or how badly the shrubs need trimming. Perhaps start by inviting the senior outside to pick a bouquet of roses. While you’re out there, do a few minutes of light trimming.
- Bring the senior a vegetable or flower start, and ask them to come outside and help you pick a spot to plant it. Then make it a habit to come over every couple of days to maintain the plant and do a few minutes of additional yard tasks while you’re there.
- Ask the senior to do you a favor by allowing you to come over and collect some plant starts of your own. You can propagate many plants by taking cuttings. Maybe they will allow you to come and pick a bouquet of flowers for yourself. This may break the ice and give you a chance to do more yard work later.
- Ask the senior to take you around the yard and show you the various flowers and plants that are growing. Make it a fun and relaxing time. While you’re out, do some casual weed plucking and suggest one simple task that you could do next time you visit. This may open the door to collaborative yard work in the future.
- However you break the ice, make sure that your first few tasks are small and unobtrusive. It is important to remain positive and show how much you enjoy doing the work and helping this senior that you care about. Keep your words encouraging and uplifting, no matter how frustrated you may feel.
Gardening can be a fun, rewarding, and healthy fair-weather activity for seniors. Integrating this gentle exercise into a senior’s daily routine will pay off in better mental health, better moods, increased muscle tone, skin health, and better bone density. Further, gardening is such a great way to increase good relationships with the seniors in your life, whether you’re a family member, neighbor, friend, or caretaker.
For seniors who are living at home and need gardening help, you can begin to provide more help by starting slowly. Be sure to listen carefully to their concerns and work to gently dispel them through your respectful behavior as you complete small tasks. Having a senior help you outside can be the perfect ice breaker to completing larger tasks more often, such as frequent lawn mowing and hedge trimming.
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