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Let's Dig In!

Research Priority: Optimising health and wellbeing
Researchers: Liz Cyarto, Xanthe Golenko, Judy Lowthian
Partners: Rekha Singh, Diversional Therapist, Inverpine community; Cath Manuel, Soil to Supper
Study population: Residential Aged Care
Funding support: Perpetual Queensland

Therapeutic Horticulture is the process of using plants and gardening activities to improve people’s health and wellbeing. In a therapeutic horticulture program, selected plants are used to stimulate the senses of sight, touch, smell and taste; and gardening/horticulture methods are used to enhance physical, psychological, cognitive and social wellbeing. For people living with dementia, therapeutic horticulture has been shown to increase resident engagement provide an alternative to medication for managing agitation.

This pilot project called Let’s Dig In! is being conducted in one Bolton Clarke Residential Aged Care home. It involves a 12-week therapeutic horticulture program that focuses on increasing participants’ physical activity, social interaction and emotional wellbeing and providing them with a sense of purpose and contribution. ,. The project aims to evaluate the feasibility and acceptability of the program from resident, staff and volunteer perspectives, and the impact on the wellbeing of participants. The program is being delivered in partnership with Cath Manuel, a horticultural therapist from Soil to Supper.

The project has four stages:

Stage 1: Onsite consultation to assess the suitability and safety of the      garden areas Installation of raised garden beds and soil preparation

Stage 2: Recruitment of Let’s Dig In! volunteers
Training of program staff and volunteers in the principles of therapeutic horticulture

Stage 3: Recruitment of Let’s Dig In! participants
Baseline assessment of resident participants
Let’s Dig In! program delivery and monitoring

Stage 4: Onsite visit to assess the gardens and provide support to staff and volunteers
Follow-up assessment of resident participant
Post-program Interviews

Participants’ mobility, strength and balance was assessed. They completed surveys on quality of life, loneliness, satisfaction and engagement. The extent of resident involvement in each session was recorded. Follow up interviews were conducted with staff, volunteers and residents.

Data analysis is currently underway, however preliminary results showed a 5-10% improvement in participants’ mobility, strength and balance (not statistically significant), with some residents making substantial gains in physical ability. The interviews with residents indicated an improvement in subjective wellbeing; they felt happier and had a greater sense of purpose and achievement. Further, interviews with staff and volunteers suggest that the therapeutic horticulture program is feasible and acceptable in care homes.