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Archive for April, 2019

The Healing and Invigorating Power of Gardens

Monday , April 29 , 2019

The Healing and Invigorating Power of Gardens

According to Dee McGuire, a horticultural therapist at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Baltimore, spending time outdoors is restorative for seniors – even if they have dementia.

And indeed, for many older adults, there’s nothing they’d rather do than dig in the dirt and tend to their plants. Most of them do it solely for the pleasure of nurturing a living thing and helping it thrive. Growing the perfect tomato or pruning a beautiful rose bush can bring immense satisfaction.

As it turns out, however, horticulture is more than just a feel-good hobby. It’s also really good for your health.  Studies show that by spending just 2.5 hours a week gardening, seniors can reduce their risk for multiple health issues–both physical and mental.

Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of being outside–and how you can help your older loved one continue to garden, well into their golden years:

How does gardening benefit the elderly?

If you’ve ever had a really stressful day, popped outside for a quick walk, and then immediately felt better–you understand the benefits of ‘green time.’ Nature can be an amazing salve for even the toughest of wounds.

  • Physical health: For those that might otherwise live a sedentary lifestyle, even the smallest amounts of exercise can be beneficial. And gardening is a great way to get some movement in: It’s low impact, improves endurance and strength, encourages use of motor skills, and can be done at your own pace. Even better? If all goes well, you’ll be rewarded with healthy fruits and vegetables at the end. Other benefits include

– Improved mobility and flexibility

– Decreased risk of osteoporosis

– Higher levels of Vitamin D

  • Mental Health: In the past, I’ve discussed the difficulties many seniors face with loneliness, social isolation, and depression. Often, exercise is promoted as a way to combat these, and other, mental health issues. Gardening, in particular, is often recommended to older adults for its emotional health benefits. Spending time outdoors and tending to plants is an excellent stress reliever. It not only promotes relaxation and provides stimulation, but can also promote socialization, as many seniors choose to join a gardening club or even invite grandchildren to help them out.

Planning and working in a garden is an act of creativity and an investment in the future. It is a gift to others that brings meaning and purpose to the life of the gardener.

 Overcoming obstacles

Despite its numerous benefits, gardening may pose a problem for many older adults–especially those with limited mobility or other physical limitations. There’s no question that tasks such as weeding the garden or pruning the plants require a lot of up-and-down, kneeling, squatting, and other movements that may become more difficult with age. Sometimes, even the physical requirements of simply carrying a watering can may seem like they’re too much.

 Don’t let those limitations deter you! Many of the physical obstacles to gardening can be overcome by using the right technique or the right tools. Here are a few suggestions:

  •  Use a vertical garden or raised beds to alleviate the need to bend or crouch
  • Purchase brightly-colored tools to make them easier to find
  • Avoid the hottest times of day by gardening early in the morning or just before dusk
  • Stay hydrated and wear protective clothing, such as sun hats and long-sleeved shirts
  • If the garden is on the ground, use a kneeler or knee pads for a more comfortable experience
  • Invest in tools with longer handles to decrease the need to bend
  • Try a garden scooter if walking becomes tiring–they’ll allow easy movement around the garden and even hold all of the needed tools
  • Choose plants that can last a few days on their own without being watered or tended

 Final thoughts

Renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks said, “In 40 years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical ‘therapy’ to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.”

He believed that nature has a calming and organizing effect on our brains. That it is restorative and healing, even for those who are deeply unwell. Many studies back up his claims and I have to say–I agree.

Posted in: Aging, Health

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Keeping Life Fresh and Vital at Any Age

Monday , April 22 , 2019

Keeping Life Fresh and Vital at Any Age

Author Judith Viorst is perhaps best known for her beloved children’s books, including  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and Sad Underwear and Other Complications. But, starting with It’s Hard to Be Hip Over 30  (1968),  Viorst has also been offering her humorous and insightful observations about getting older with a new volume of poetry for every decade of life.

This month, she has just published her eighth volume in the series titled, Nearing Ninety: And Other Comedies of Late Life (Simon & Schuster). Her poem Right Now reminds us that savoring the here and now keeps life fresh and vital at any age:



Right now

I’m not really thinking that

My knee replacement needs a knee replace-


Or my grandson might actually marry that

     awful girl,

Or maybe it’s time to switch from stocks to

     Gold bars.

Right now

I’m not really thinking about

Comparative retirement communities,

Or the speed at which the polar ice caps are


Or why they’re letting people our age still

      drive cars.

Right now

I’m not resenting the fact

That I’m wide-awake this early in the


After yet another insomniac night,

Because, outside my bedroom window,

     streams of rosy light

Are slowly spilling across the undarkening


While the sun blazes into being at the


And there’s nothing else to think about,

Nothing else to know,

Nothing else I need to know

Right now.

Posted in: Aging

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National Health Care Decision Day

Monday , April 15 , 2019

National Health Care Decision Day

It may never be as popular as “National Talk Like a Pirate Day” (September 19), or “National Chocolate Chip Day” (May 15), but April 16 has its own designation: “National Health Care Decision Day.”

 The organization sponsoring and promoting the idea writes that their goal is “to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning.”

 Recently, we discussed two important documents that we should all be aware of: advanced directives (also known as living wills) and Do Not Resuscitate orders. These documents allow us to specify which life-sustaining treatments we do or do not want to be used in the event of a health crisis.

Thinking about death and the possibility of declining health is hard. It’s no surprise that many people avoid it at all costs. But making these decisions ahead of time can be one of the kindest things we can do for our families. Taking the burden of making these wrenching decisions from their shoulders can be a tremendous help during a stressful time.

What is National Healthcare Decisions Day?

National Healthcare Decisions Day aims to educate and empower the public to take part in important advance care planning initiatives. Hundreds of different national, state, and local organizations take part in the annual program, now in it’s 11th year. Participating groups emphasize the importance of advance directives, ensuring that the information, opportunity, and resources needed to document health care decisions are available to all adult U.S. citizens with decision-making capacity.

In honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day, I encourage you to:

 Understand your options

There are different types of advance directives and they can vary based on state law. The two most common types of advance directives are the living will and durable power of attorney for health care (sometimes called a health care proxy).

These documents typically include instructions about your health care decisions. For example, you can specify that you do not wish to be resuscitated in the event of cardiac arrest or other catastrophic health failure. An advance directive can also be used to specify how you’d like your health care handled should you develop a condition like Alzheimer’s Disease or become unconscious for an extended period of time.

Other types of directives include the 5 Wishes form (legally recognized in 42 states), Do Not Resuscitate order, and physician orders for life sustaining treatment (POLST).

Talk to others about your wishes

Bottom line: if your loved ones aren’t aware of your wishes, they can’t carry them out. Advance care planning starts with talking with your family, friends, and healthcare providers to make your desires known. Let them know if you have a living will, DNR, or other end-of-life plans and give those closest to you copies of any important documents. This will relieve them of the need of trying to guess what you would want if you are ever faced with a medical crisis.

Engage others in conversation

End-of-life planning is important no matter how old you are or whatever your station in life. Talk to others about why advance directives and other types of planning are vital and help them to understand their options. By making others aware, we can help ensure that their healthcare wishes are met and help spare their family the stress of uncertainty.

Not sure how to bring up this sensitive topic? The National Hospice and Palliative Care Association has suggestions on how to get the conversation going on their website.

Consider your legacy

A Place for Mom says, “The elderly leave us a priceless gift when they bestow their knowledge, skills and history to family and beloved friends.”

Thinking ahead to the end of life isn’t just about planning for health care. It also offers us opportunities to enrich our lives and to leave something meaningful for the next generations–something more valuable than money or property.

What do you want your friends and family to remember about you when you’re gone? What stories would you like told by generations to come? None of know how long our life might be, but we can actively engage every single day and act with meaning and purpose. By living a life in a way that is meaningful for us, we can leave the legacy we desire.

Here are some other ways you can leave lasting memories for those you love:

  • Be honest: Be your authentic self and share your failings as well as your victories. A life lived with transparency and openness will set a wonderful example for the generations to come.
  • Share the gift of time: At the end of your life, your loved ones are going to remember the times you spent together more than anything else. Commit yourself to sharing meaningful experiences with your friends and family, even if it’s something as simple as a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon.
  • Tell your story: My grandfather used to share stories of growing up on the farm with his brothers and sisters–one in particular that I always recall are the famous ‘pig rodeos’ they had out by the barn. I remember those stories as if I was there myself, even though they happened far before I was ever born. By sharing your stories, you will give your children and grandchildren tales they can enjoy well into adulthood.
  • Talk about your vision for life after you’ve departed: Let your children, grandchildren, and other loved ones know what you’d like to see happen for them in the future. Those thoughts might help steer them through difficult times one day. After all, there likely isn’t one among us that hasn’t asked, “What would dad have done?” at least once.

Further resources

For more ideas on how to leave a legacy, see the below sources:

  • Grand Magazine: Words of wisdom on how to leave a legacy for your children and grandchildren to cherish.
  • Celebrations of life: Information on ethical wills–a way to share your values, blessing, and life’s lessons with your family, friends and community.
  • Talk of a Lifetime: Tips for making sure that you collect all the memories you need to make this book special for everyone.

Posted in: Aging

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