Complementing life at St. Joseph’s Health Centre

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We all know that people are living longer and that there will be more of us as time goes on. The people who are in long term care now are cared for by knowledgeable, discerning spouses and children who are demanding that their relative get the most out of their last days at their new home. This means that they want more than the requisite, and very important, attention given to the activities of daily living for their loved one. They want the home to provide regular access to complementary leisure and recreation therapies so that life in this new home can somewhat emulate life as it used to be before moving in. Horticultural Therapy is one of these complementary therapies and is instrumental in normalizing the new home.

The Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association (CHTA) espouses the use of horticulture and related activities to improve the well-being of individuals. It is a holistic, complementary therapy that enriches us spiritually, emotionally and physically. Horticultural Therapy is a productive, non-threatening way to achieve pre-determined goals. It is intervention based and has measurable outcomes.

Every day at St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Wanda Fabbian, Registered Horticultural Therapist, has an opportunity to deliver Horticultural Therapy to many people who live there. Monday begins the week with an evening group who, this week, will use cut dogwood, curly willow, and evergreens to create a winter patio pot. The branches have been cut from the property, and some have been donated by volunteers and staff. The ingenuity and impetus is the residents’. Not only do they get to do something for themselves they also contribute to the overall beauty of the environment.

On Tuesdays, the Greenthumbs, Men’s Horticulture Group, will continue to clean garden tools in preparation for next season. The tools are familiar to them and just when you think they are not going to talk someone starts to remember their days on the farm, or in their garden. Men are reticent to talk much at all when they are together so this group is particularly challenging to stimulate and when someone speaks you listen.

Sunflower’s is the women’s Hort. Group and there is no problem with chit chat in this group. Although, often the concentration level is also high and sometimes this makes for some silence. However, this is easily overcome when tea is served and the sweet tray is passed around. Women tend to share so much more about themselves and their families and a horticultural group is a great venue for this sharing. It is like the olden days when women gathered to accomplish a task for the greater good. So, this group makes pressed flower greeting cards and bookmarks for their own use, and to sell in our annual harvest sale.

The sale is now so successful that all the horticultural groups and some individuals are busy preparing for it as early as May. That is, as soon as the pansies are ready to be cut and pressed. But, it is the Food Adventurers that are the real stars of the sale. From June until September, this group assembles weekly to wash, peel, core, chop, and cook a variety of vegetables and fruit to make some pretty exotic preserves, such as Rose Petal Jam and Raspberry-Thyme Jelly. Their reputation precedes them so that they now have repeat business and sell out items.

Perhaps the most successful recipients of Horticultural Therapy are the folks with Alzheimer’s related dementia. A unique and special group of people with specific needs who respond very well to horticulture activities that are visible and almost instantly accomplished. The successes with this client group vary from starkly obvious to softly subtle. It is the accumulation of these successes that makes Horticultural Therapy a viable alternative to health and well-being.

The Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association is committed to promoting Horticultural Therapy. The association has existed for 18 years and yet it is surprising how many people still have not heard about the discipline. I think now is the time to introduce it to your facility, whether you are in an active hospital, long term care or day program. As facilitators of care we have a responsibility to enrich the lives of our clients.