Thursday, October 8, 2015 By: Ask A Master Gardener

Assisting the elderly with gardening activities

Assisting the elderly with gardening activities

Bill Sevier: Ask a Master Gardener

Saturday, October 8, 2015

Q: My mother loves to garden, but due to her age-related problems, she is having difficulties. What can I do to make gardening easier for her? E. C., Tulsa
A: There are several things one can do to assist gardening activities for the elderly. The challenges facing aging gardeners are well-recognized and written about. A recent review from the National Institutes of Health goes into great detail.
Our population, and in many other countries worldwide, is getting older. Along with age there are numerous medical problems which may develop. Some of these problems are physical while others are related to memory, intellectual function and social situations.
All seniors can benefit from gardening activities indoors and outdoors. The fact that these activities are beneficial is the basis for popular horticultural therapy with “therapeutic gardens.”
Studies have suggested that these activities may help maintain independent living, thereby reducing the use and therefore the cost of long-term care facilities. With horticultural therapy activities, there also seems to be significant improvement in general mental status, sense of responsibility, social interaction and over-all stress levels.
Mobility may be improved with activity associated with reduced incidences of falls and related trauma. The age-related pains and discomforts seem to be less related to increased activity.
The issues that older people often have, which may limit gardening participation, are failing vision, reduced manual dexterity, difficulty with stooping and lifting, along with intolerance of heat.
To meet these challenges, some generic suggestions could be helpful.
Garden tools may be painted with a bright color to better enable seniors to locate them. Tools can be modified as to length, shape and covered with rubber sleeves for easier griping.
To deal with difficulties in stooping, consider raised beds a couple of feet high, designed with a place to sit and for wheelchair access, if needed. Also consider vertical gardens or trellis structures, which are easier to reach.
There are several devices to aid in working close to the ground. One of the best is a “garden kneeler,” a low stool with knee pads and elevated handles at each side to assist standing from a kneeling position.
Other helpful ideas are to use seed tapes, which are easier to handle than seeds. Also, selecting plants to stimulate the senses, especially those of touch and smell, may be desirable and helpful for all of us, including seniors.
A common-sense tip for seniors to help deal with the heat is to drink plenty of fluids and, in summer, garden in the morning before 10 or in the afternoon after 2. Also helpful are large gardening hats, long-sleeved shirts, gardening gloves, eye protection and sunscreen.
If you are a senior or if you have a family member or a friend who is a senior, get involved. Get the right tools, use common sense, along with your accumulated wisdom, to get into gardening, be it flowers, vegetables or houseplants.

Garden tips
Plant cool-season annuals like pansies, ornamental cabbage or kale, snapdragons and dusty miller when temperatures begin to cool.

Prune trees or shrubs anytime there are dead or diseased limbs. Do not perform routine pruning now. Pruning before winter dormancy may stimulate new growth sensitive to the cold. Fall pruning also removes energy stores needed for winter survival. Prune summer-blooming plants in late winter before spring growth starts and prune spring-blooming plants after blooming is completed.

Continue to replant or establish cool-season lawns like fescue. Mow and neatly edge warm-season grasses before the first killing frost.


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