Experiencing and interacting with nature can have profound effects on well-being, but what are the best ways for senior living providers to offer nature interventions for residents?
In a recent article, researchers reviewed 26 studies published in the last 20 years that tested indoor nature interventions in residential care settings. These studies included active interventions, such as gardening, horticultural, or virtual activities, in addition to passive interventions, such as the installation of indoor gardens, plants, or aquariums, as well as viewing paintings or photos of nature.
As might be expected, active interventions where participants were able to physically touch nature generally had more positive outcomes than passive interventions where participants were only able to view nature. These positive outcomes included improved psychological well-being, life satisfaction, social well-being, engagement, and quality of life. Some studies even found benefits of structured nature interventions for people with dementia, but more rigorous research is needed to confirm this. Nature interventions did not appear to be effective in improving physical functioning, however.
In identifying the features of the most effective nature interventions, the authors found that the most effective interventions tended to be those that lasted more than five weeks; included social interaction or skill or knowledge development; and involved caring for nature. Interventions incorporating these aspects tended to use gardening or horticulture therapy, so the process of learning and interacting with others may have had a stronger effect than nature specifically, but these are still meaningful activities for participants.
Additionally, nursing home residents tended to find the most benefit in these types of interventions; and findings related to benefits for people with dementia were not as strong as the benefits for older adults in general. Considering the variety of findings, indoor nature activities might be a good addition to program offerings in residential care settings, although these activities probably shouldn’t replace other meaningful programs.
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Yeo NL, Elliott LR, Bethel A, White MP, Dean SG, & Garside R. Indoor nature interventions for health and wellbeing of older adults in residential settings: A systematic review. The Gerontologist. (2019). https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnz019