Simple Gardening Tips for Seniors

gardening tips

Getting outside and playing in the dirt is something we encourage kids to do and of course, they love it. Why not enjoy the same thrill as a senior with gardening? This sort of “playing in the dirt” has plenty of physical and psychological benefits for everyone, but there are some specific ways it helps us as we age.

A study in the National Library of Medicine found that even small amounts of physical activity can help a person live longer, in addition to making them healthier. The wonderful exercise you can get from gardening has been shown to cut down on the risk of heart attack or stroke[1]. A study from Kansas State University found that gardening increases hand strength while also boosting self-esteem. And it keeps getting better: gardening can increase vitamin D from the sun exposure, give you the regular exercise needed to help stave off osteoporosis, improve flexibility, relieve stress, and maybe even reduce depression and anxiety[2].

The Importance of Medical Alert Devices While Gardening

As you explore gardening, it’s important to stay safe. You can achieve this through a more accessible garden, better tools designed for older hands, and even through the use of carts or kneelers to help you move around the garden. One important tool in your safety arsenal is a medical alert pendant.

While medical alert systems with fall detection are ideal for in the home (especially in the shower), it’s also important to have security available at an instant when you are outside. It can be quite easy to trip and fall in the garden, as there are all sorts of hazards, including uneven soil, roots popping up, or simply the act of stooping down to handle plants that are lower to the ground.

There’s also the concern about the heat. Gardening can be a hot job, especially since you are probably going to be in direct sunlight, which can quickly warm someone to a point of having trouble with the heat. If you begin to feel the symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, or if you fall while gardening, press the button alert and a trained agent will respond immediately, ready to help you no matter what the issue.

Wait – What’s Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke?

The CDC considers heat stroke to be among the most serious of heat-related conditions. It happens when the body’s temperature goes up so fast that the usual mechanism of sweating to cool the body just can’t keep up. Heat stroke can be quite dangerous and it can happen quickly, within the span of 10 to 15 minutes. Signs of heat stroke include:

·         Hot, dry skin

·         Profuse sweating

·         Confusion or an altered mental state

·         Slurred speech

·         A very high body temperature

·         Seizures, coma, or death if not promptly treated

Heat exhaustion is a little less frightening but still not a good thing for anyone but especially for the elderly. Heat exhaustion symptoms may include:

·         Headache

·         Dizziness

·         Weakness

·         Nausea

·         Irritability

·         Profuse sweating

·         Feeling very thirsty

·         A high body temperature

·         Decreased urine output[3]

Heat exhaustion, while not as serious as heat stroke, is definitely a sign that you need help immediately. If you can get into the house where it’s cool and get something to drink, that’s the best bet – do that right away. But if you can’t get into shade or a cool area, never take chances with your health. Use a medical alert device. The professionals at our Command Center will send help immediately, whether that means friends, family, or neighbors, or if things are more serious, they can get in touch with emergency services. No matter what, they will stay on the line with you until help arrives.

Staying Safe While Gardening

Let’s talk about some other ways to stay safe while tending your garden.

·         Wear sun protection. Sunscreen is an excellent idea anytime you are outside, but especially in the garden, where you will hang out for an extended period of time. Also consider wearing a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, long-sleeved pants, and a large sun hat.

·         Get in a good stretch. Gardening can be a workout! Take the time to stretch your body well before you head outside, where you will be bending and lifting.

·         Choose the right time of day. Gardening in the early morning or the early evening helps you stay out of the worst heat of the sun at midday. Get out there when the temperatures are cooler for a much more pleasant experience.

·         Protect your hands. Durable gardening gloves that are thick enough to prevent pricks from thorns and brambles are a great idea.

·         Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated while in the sun is vitally important. Take along a bottle of cold water to sip in between gardening jobs. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink it – make a point of taking regular breaks to have that water.

·         Take frequent breaks. Remember the dangers of the heat, but also remember that gardening is hard work. Take a break every five or ten minutes to drink that aforementioned water, as well as simply take the time to look over your garden and enjoy it.

Tips to Make Gardening Easier for Seniors

Here are some other great ways to make gardening easier, more enjoyable, and even more productive.

·         Use the right tools. Lightweight, ergonomic tools are your best bet for gardening. It pays to invest a little bit more to get a higher-quality tool, as you can depend on them to stay sharp when cutting, not break on larger stems or branches, and generally be easier to handle. Look for tools with long, comfortable rubber handles. Opt for bright colors, as the black or brown of a typical gardening tool can be tough to find if you drop it. The Arthritis Foundation has a lot more to say about selecting the right tools.

·         Wear proper shoes. The garden is full of things that could pose a fall risk; wearing proper shoes can help you prevent that. Avoid sandals or flip-flops, as they are much more likely to lead to a fall. Wear closed-toe shoes with rubber soles for good traction.

·         Make it a family affair. Working in the garden can be a lot of fun for kids. It can make any adult feel productive. The healing effects of nature are wonderful for anyone. And it can provide time to simply putter away, talk, and catch up. Invite loved ones or neighbors to help you in the garden.

·         Invest in a very lightweight hose. Your garden needs a lot of water (just like you do!) but it can be tough to lug around a heavy rubber hose. Instead, opt for a very lightweight, coiled hose. It’s much easier to move around.

·         Consider small rain barrels. Instead of drawing water from a central point at the house tap, think about installing rain barrels at strategic spots around the garden. This allows you to use the rain from the sky to water the garden, as well as helps with the issue of pulling around a hose to water the plants.

·         Use a wagon. Gardening can come with the need for a wide variety of tools, as well as fertilizer and other soil treatments. You might also need something to hold your harvest if you’re picking vegetables from the garden. To that end, use a four-wheeled wagon to carry things around instead of a wheelbarrow. It’s much more stable and let’s be honest: I t’s a lot cuter.

·         Get a garden apron. Don’t have a garden large enough to justify the use of a wagon? Simply go with a small basket or a garden apron. This specialized apron has pockets to hold a few tools and even a bit of your harvest.

·         Go with low-maintenance plants. Don’t bother with those elaborate plants that need constant attention. Go with plants that grow quite fine on their own without much intervention, such as many varieties of spring flowers, peppers, tomatoes, and herbs.

·         Consider a container garden. Can’t get out into a larger garden or don’t have the time to tend to it properly? A container garden brings the plants to you. Containers of any size will do, as long as they are suitable for the particular plant in them. Container gardens can include everything from lovely flowers to herbs to smaller cultivars of vegetables, such as cherry tomatoes.

Configuring an Accessible Garden

Aging in place home modifications often target the safety of the elderly, but when you consider the advantages, it makes sense that everyone can enjoy things like a walk-in shower, grab bars, or roll-out kitchen shelves. The same is true in the garden, where accessibility makes the process of gardening much easier and more enjoyable for anyone.

Here are a few ideas to make your garden a more comfortable place (and thus encourage you to spend more time out there among the flowers and vegetables).

·         Use raised beds. Raised beds are just what they sound like – they are small plots raised above the ground by at least a several inches, sometimes by a few feet, to make it easier to reach the plants inside the bed. Many gardeners swear by raised beds as a way to not only better control weeds, but to save themselves from back pain. The ideal is to look for raised beds that are two to three feet in height.

·         Use trellises. Plants grow upward on trellises, which can provide visual interest to the garden and make it much easier to tend to them. Plants on trellises are easier to reach, and thus easier to prune or harvest fruits and vegetables.

·         Use planter caddies. If you have a container garden, be sure to put planter caddies under each of the pots if they are on a flat surface, such as a driveway or sidewalk. This makes them easier to move around.

·         Use narrow plots. Narrow plots will ensure you don’t have to actually step into the garden bed to reach the plants in the middle – you can reach all plants from the side. This helps you avoid bending too far, which can hurt your back and add to your fall risk.

·         Build in seats. Seats on the sides of the raised garden beds are perfect for sitting down to garden. These seats can work well throughout the garden, such as a bench placed right alongside a narrow plot.

·         Install walking paths. This can create a clear space to walk and help with fall prevention, as it can keep you from walking on uneven ground. The best paths are those of smooth concrete, but those can be expensive. At the very least, make sure the ground is level and unblocked.

·         Use a scooter or garden trolley. This might only work well if you already have those walking paths in place. A scooter can get you around the garden easily, and a garden trolley can provide a mobile place to sit down. (However, keep in mind that many garden trolleys are a bit short, so it can be tough to rise from a seated position in one.)

·         Use a drip irrigation system. Small kits are easy to install in your raised garden beds and provide plenty of water for your plants, so you no longer have to pull around that unwieldy hose.

Enjoy the Benefits of Fresh Vegetables and Lovely Flowers

The benefits of fresh veggies have been established through thousands of studies and the simple emotional lift anyone can get from the sight of a lovely flower is evident. There are so many good reasons to take up gardening as a hobby, but remember that you must be safe about it. Keep a medical alert watch or pendant on you at all times, even when you are out in the garden. It’s water resistant, so you don’t have to worry about it getting wet. And if you ever feel those signs of heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or suffer some sort of emergency, never hesitate to press the medical alarm button to get help to you – even if you’re in the middle of your sunflowers and beans, built-in GPS can rolate you quickly.

Safe and happy gardening!