Caring for houseplants can have very positive effects on the lives of retirement community residents, according to a new study.
Quality of life becomes an important issue for older adults who move from their own homes to assisted living or long-term-care facilities.
When adults make the transition from living on their own to an assisted-living, they begin to feel a loss of control in their choices and independence. This loss of mastery has a negative impact on their overall sense of health and well-being.
One known way to improve the physical or emotional status of people who have diminished control over their lives is by encouraging them to take responsibility for another individual. This 'other individual' may be a person, animal, or plant.
The 4-week study, conducted by Claudia C. Collins and Angela M. O'Callaghan, involved 18 residents in a weekly, 2-hour interactive horticulture class taught by a social horticulturist and a sociologist.
The residents were given interactive lessons on the care of houseplants, choices of what plants to bring home and care for, and different options in potting containers.
The classes also offered residents an opportunity for social interaction with peers and instructors.
Over the course of the study, the teachers were impressed by the transformation of the overall demeanour of the students.
They changed from a state of passive, lonely dependence to being more active, socially connected, and responsible for something other than themselves, demonstrating improvement in quality of life and mastery.
Several key categories emerged over the course of the study that illustrated areas of improvement in the resident's quality of life.
First, caring for their houseplants provided companionship for the residents, some of whom reported singing and talking to their plants. Second, caring for the plants encouraged active and energetic participation.
The researchers found that 'the overall energy was positive and electric as everyone involved could not wait to see how their plants would fare', adding that study participants 'got dirty hands, dirt on their clothes, and felt competent.'
Other positive impacts noted were a general feeling of success and accomplishment. Residents also showed excitement in planning for the future, and looked forward to being involved in developing an outdoor community garden.
The study has been published in the American Society for Horticultural Science journal HortTechnology.