F Unit, the hospital’s geriatric and long term care unit, has created a sensory garden that encourages movement and conversation as well as stimulating the senses of sight, touch, smell and sound. Clinicians also use the gardens to help organize activities and provide an outlet for self expression. “We do a lot of reminiscing while we’re doing this,” reports Social Service Specialist Julia Burns. “So they’ll tell us about mom’s garden; they’re remembering growing vegetables during childhood and how things were done.”

“Sometimes the patients become bored with our regular exercise programs and walking indoors. In the courtyard, we’re able to do the same exercises in a more stimulating manner,” said Julie Johnson, Rehabilitation Therapy Assistant. “The garden invites them out to the courtyard. They will often venture out just to see what’s sprung up.”

Tonya Smith, Rehabilitation Therapy adds “We have patients who may be suffering from dementia or other brain injuries who don’t even appear to recognize the gardens. But when you put a garden hose in their hands, they somehow know what to do.”

Some research suggests that Horticulture Therapy is catching on in long-term care settings for a number of reasons. Tending to plants decreases anxiety and blood pressure, helps maintain motor skills, and gives patients a sense of purpose. A growing numbers of experts say activity, like gardening, is transforming the lives of people with illness.

The unit has two special areas dedicated to this project. In their main courtyard they have three raised beds for wheelchair users and standing gardeners. These accessible beds are long and narrow, so wheelchair users can easily reach and work the plants. On the patio they have different size planters that can be lifted without difficulty to a table. Specialized tools are also utilized so that gardening can be fun and effortless. The courtyard has several tables with umbrellas for shade as well as benches and swings strategically placed to watch blooming flowers or simply rest in a nice area.

The other garden is cleverly placed between their large dayroom and a quiet room. Individuals can sit in either location and look out at a garden filled with birds, squirrels, bunnies, various flowers, and ceramic sculptures that they have created in groups. Julia noted that on one recent day “20 geese and goslings were counted in the garden.” This area is maintained by the efforts of patient volunteers within vocational rehabilitation, employees working grounds in Physical Plant and Treatment Mall staff.

Patients can also wander into the quiet room where it is often filled with the relaxing sounds of running water and nature. The walls are covered with murals of birds, trees, and encouraging words. This peaceful, interactive environment is another example of the active and expressive therapies available to patients.

Everyone Should Hear
Newsletter of the Evansville State Hospital
Evansville, Indiana
by Tonya Smith