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Leverage Sun to Avoid SAD


By the time mid-January rolls around, we’ve boxed away the last decorative remnants of the holiday season, and yet we still have two more months of winter ahead.

It’s the perfect time to head out to your therapeutic garden to enjoy the sunshine.

Oh, we hear your protests. We know it’s cold. In fact, in some areas, we know it’s downright freezing.

However, the pros outweigh the cons. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that in North America, the prevalence of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) increases with latitude. Our friends in New Hampshire experience SAD at a rate of 9.7%, whereas just 1.4% of sunny Floridians report SAD.

Older adults grew up in a different time period, one that did not yet focus on mental health the way that we do today. The older adults in your care may not be familiar with the term seasonal affective disorder, nor recognize that they are in its grips.

The NIH shares that 60% to 80% of people affected by SAD benefit from light therapy. In many cases, as few as two to four days of light therapy can positively impact those suffering from SAD. To experience the full benefits, 30 to 90 minutes of natural sun exposure is needed each day, preferably morning sun.

This January, create opportunities that encourage older adults to venture out into your therapeutic garden. Three simple ideas include:

1)  A post-breakfast garden planning meeting. Now is the time that catalogs begin to roll in, showcasing next year’s plants and garden ornamental elements. Involve seniors in reviewing the catalogs, examining your garden in its winter state, and making planning suggestions for spring.

2)  Organize a hot tea sampler party. Feature a variety of flavors of hot tea and invite seniors to taste test and discuss their thoughts on each tea.

3)  A post-lunch stroll. Create a lightly competitive environment that motivates seniors to take a daily stroll through the garden. Encourage the development of personal goals or social ones, for seniors to compete either against themselves or others. Measure success by keeping track of the length of time each person strolls in the garden. Award weekly prizes, whether it’s a plant clipping or writing winners’ names on a chalkboard displayed in the garden.

With planning and encouragement – and, not to mention, some warm clothes in which to bundle up – spending time in your therapeutic garden this January can improve both the physical and emotional well-being of older adults in your care.

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