Lancaster University

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Cultivating Health and Mental Well being Among Older People in Northern England

01/23/2004 16:56:22

Gardening can help put the bloom back in older people's lives according to new research from Lancaster University.

A gardening group - set up as part of a pioneering health research project by Lancaster academics - has helped transform empty allotments in Carlisle into colourful spaces and sparked new friendships.

The research, which began in September 2001 as part of the Government healthy ageing initiative, set out to examine the impact of social activity and gardening on older people's health.

More than 90 people took part in the project, which was run in partnership between Lancaster University's Institute for Health Research, The Department of Public Health at Cumbria Primary Care Trust; Age Concern, Carlisle and Carlisle City Council.

The gardeners, along with a social group and a control group each of around 30 people, were interviewed regularly and asked to keep a diary during the project.

Research carried out on the back of the field work has shown that regular social contact, either as part of a gardening group or social club can bring about a real improvement in older people's well being and sense of self worth.

In their diaries the group of green fingered over 65s listed a number of benefits from the project, including satisfaction at the end product, a continued sense of learning and increased social contact. Although the project formally came to a close in October 2003, both the gardening group and the social club are still going strong.

Dr Amanda Bingley, researcher on the study led by Professor Anthony Gatrell and Dr Christine Milligan, said gardening clubs were starting to spring up around the UK but until now very little detailed research had been carried out on the benefits to older people.

She said: "We found social contact has the most effect on older people's well being. Particularly people who have suffered mental health problems such as depression or acute loneliness following bereavement.

"We found even if people were not well enough to help with the garden they would come to sit and watch while the others worked."

Recommendations in the report included:

- The need for support and resources to set up and maintain successful social clubs for older people.

- The potential for local clubs to run schemes, which aim to support people to continue to garden and thereby enjoy the benefits of their own gardens for longer than is currently possible.

-Clubs of this kind can also accommodate disabled older people, but would require additional financial resources and support.