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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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Advance Directives: What Kind do I Need?

Thursday , April 11 , 2019

Advance Directives: What Kind do I Need?

Many people, both young and old, worry that their end-of-life wishes may not be carried out the way they want when the time comes. There are two documents your elderly loved one can fill out to ensure they receive the kind of healthcare they desire in the case they become incapacitated: an advanced directive and a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate order).

It’s likely that you’ve already heard those terms but aren’t quite sure what they mean. We’re going to go over both – plus the POLST (Physicians Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) – so you can better understand the options and make sure your loved one takes the appropriate measures.

Here’s what you need to know:

What is an advance directive?

An advance directive, also called a living will, is a written document that sets out how individuals should be cared for in the event of an emergency or if they are otherwise incapacitated. It allows them to specify their wishes for end-of-life care while they are still well enough to be in control and make decisions –including treatments they would not want to use. For instance, an individual could spell out whether or not, and under what circumstances, they would want to be on a ventilator or have a feeding tube inserted.

This document is mainly a communication between an individual and their doctor or hospital, and it helps guide the physician and hospital staff in the care they will provide.

What is a DNR?

I find that there is often a lot of confusion about the difference between an advance directive and a DNR. Families frequently think that the Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR) is included in the advance directive, but that is rarely the case.

Each document serves a different purpose: While the advance directive is for doctors and the hospital, a DNR is a form than can quickly be handed to first responders or medical staff if an individual is in cardiac arrest. It is short, sweet and to-the-point – something paramedics can easily scan during an emergency situation. It tells them that the patient does not want CPR performed, and it should be kept in a designated spot in the home.

What is a POLST?

Many states, including NJ, have begun using and promoting a new document called a POLST (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) that combines some elements of the advance directive with the DNR. If you or a loved one stops breathing or goes into cardiac arrest, EMTs and hospitals must follow the instructions on the POLST because it is a legally binding document. As long as you are able to express your wishes, however, you can always change your mind.

Final thoughts

It is never too early to start planning for end-of-life. An advanced directive and a DNR are not just documents for the elderly – everyone should plan for medical emergencies and end-of-life care. While none of us wants to face our mortality, it’s important to take the appropriate measures so your family can understand and carry out your wishes if something does happen.

Helpful resources:

For information about POLST & DNR, click here

For a printable DNR form, click here

For a printable NJ POLST form, click here

Posted in: Aging

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