Summer is a great time for elderly individuals to get out and enjoy the outdoors. Many of them enjoy gardening, which can be quite therapeutic for those recovering from surgery or an illness. But for those elderly who have physical, visual, or cognitive disabilities, gardening can be difficult and frustrating. In order to make gardening possible and enjoyable again, adaptive gardening steps must be taken.
“Among of the most popular areas on our campus are the private gardens we offer to our residents,” says Matt Bucher, Elizabeth Scott’s Director of Marketing. “The gardens give them a chance to get out in the fresh air and sunshine, to move about, and to bring back fond memories of a past where they used to enjoy gardening at home.” Bucher says Elizabeth Scott’s rehabilitative team from Concept Rehab, Inc. has provided residents and families with adaptive gardening tips that can be used by any elderly individual with physical limitations.
“Gardening can be an excellent avenue for improving overall health and well-being and can be modified for those in a wheelchair or who may be unsteady on their feet or have visual issues,” says Lori Wagner, OTR/L, Assistant Vice President of Operations for Concept Rehab, Inc. Wagner offers these suggestions for those with limitations:
Make the garden accessible
The best height for a flower or vegetable bed at a wheelchair level is two feet high. If the individual is unsteady while standing alone, the height should be no more than 18 inches to enable them to sit on the side or stand with support.
Start seedlings indoors
Fill egg cartons with potting soil and then plant the seeds. Put holes in the bottom of the egg cartons, and keep the soil moist and in a warm sunny area. The seedlings can later be transplanted outdoors when the weather permits.
For those with low vision
Use light-colored tools to contrast with the dirt. A rope on the ground can serve as a guide to mark rows for easier planting, weeding, and watering. Choose one-handed short-handle tools to free up one hand to feel the plants. An apron or bucket should be used to hold tools and debris.
For the arthritic or weakened individual
Use tools with larger handles that have a non-slip grip. More adaptive tools and ideas are available at your local garden center or by searching under “adaptive gardening” on the Internet.
To prevent overexposure to the heat and sun, apply sunscreen often and work during the cooler part of the day.
Drink plenty of water, and take rest breaks.
Let them be the boss
When helping a person with limitations to garden, allow them to be the gardener. Get them involved in the decisions of the gardening process. This will increase self-esteem and make the garden their own.
“We try to accommodate our residents in every way we can, including getting back to the gardening they love,” says Bucher. “But these tips are great for any elderly individual who still loves to garden.”❦