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Container Gardening - Staying Mentally Fit!
~ Eileen Godek, VOLUNTEER COORDINATOR
Whenever I have the opportunity to visit the Otsego Haus, the Otsego County Commission on Aging's adult day facility, my heart always feels a little lighter. A warm and welcoming atmosphere always seems to be present, with lots of smiles and laughter to top things off. With a spring snow storm moving in
Many of the folks who participate in the Otsego Haus program have varying forms of dementia or need help with the activities of daily living. When I arrived, I found most of them gathered around a large table with two staff members preparing the flower and vegetable containers they would put in their garden box.
Research has shown that gardening is one activity that helps maintain cognitive function in those living with dementia, so for the past several years, Otsego Haus has included a container gardening program in its weekly activities. In the spring, seeds are planted in containers that are placed in a large elevated garden box. The box includes a grow light and is placed near a window to help the seeds get their start. The clients regularly cultivate and water the plants and as soon as the weather permits the box is moved to an outside deck where the sun and summer rains speed the growing process.
While I was there, I learned that many of the clients had grown up on farms, or kept flower or vegetable gardens. Today they were planting seeds that would soon sprout into flowers, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. Otsego Haus Coordinator Chris Holewinski noted, "This program is wonderful because it allows the clients to work with their hands and see the end result of their efforts." She added, "We include a wide variety of plants so they are exposed to different textures, colors, and scents." She continued, "Last year, we used the tomatoes and some of the herbs we grew in our in-house meals."
Not only does the gardening program expose the clients to varied colors, textures, and scents, but it allows them to maintain eye-hand coordination and triggers reminiscing - activities that all help maintain mental fitness. Holewinski shared, "We include reminiscing every day in our program, whether it's about food or family." She explained, "The past is more vivid in their minds than the present. They might not be able to tell you what they had for breakfast, but could tell you word for word about something they did 30 years ago!"
As I looked on, I enjoyed listening to the reminiscing that was going on around the table. Eloyse recalled how she and her two brothers, when they were kids, would find a watermelon in their garden and drop it to split it open. "We'd dip in and eat that watermelon and our little red faces would give us away," she laughed. "My dad would get so mad at us," she added.Holewinski asked her, "Did that stop you from doing it again?" "No way!" she giggled."We'd be right back in that patch the next day." The whole group exploded in laughter.
Lillian shared, "I like gardening.My favorite part is planting. When I was younger, I used to do a whole lot." She joked, "I can't do as much any more now that I'm an old lady!" She told us she used to grow radishes, tomatoes, and spinach. Eloyse closed her eyes and smiled. "Can't you just taste them now!" she exclaimed!
Anna, who lived most of her life on a farm, reminisced, "This reminds me of home and being on the farm." She added, "We had a farm north of Elmira and raised 46 acres of wax and green beans."
As I listened to them reminiscing, I couldn't help but notice the large bulletin board hanging on the wall over the gardening table. It featured a tree full of colorful flowers (cut out by the clients) and the quote, "Friends are flowers in the garden of life." I reflected how these "friends" gathered around the table were the beautiful flowers that give me such a lift, every time I visit.
If you would like to know more about the Otsego Haus program, please call the Otsego County Commission on Aging at 732-1122.
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