Eldercare that blossoms

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Eldercare that blossoms
Eldercare that blossoms
Prior to its recent rejuvenation, the garden and patio at Palomar Continuing Care Center in Escondido, CA, had a cold, clinical feeling. It had metal tables, an uneven concrete surface, some umbrellas and an assortment of plants and trees.

“Residents still liked to go out there, but it just wasn't inviting,” says Barbara Hamilton, Palomar's system sustainability manager.

Now, the area has been transformed to into a warm, soothing space. It offers a healing garden with meandering pathways, bubbling fountains, peaceful alcoves where small groups can gather, stone benches, teak-like tables and garden boxes where residents can tend to growing vegetables. It encompasses 2,000 square feet, roughly 20% more than the previous patio area.

The $60,000 healing garden and patio makeover exceeds the wildest imagination of Steve Gold, the facility's chief officer of senior care and support services. Creating a healing garden was a logical step for the 96-bed skilled nursing facility, he believes. The regional healthcare system that Palomar is affiliated also has healing gardens at a hospital and another nursing facility.

The best environment to heal in is one where patients feel at peace with themselves, he says.

“In designing and planning, we referred to evidence-based studies, based on how people heal when they have access to and views of nature. Studies show that Alzheimer's patients respond well to gardens,” Hamilton says.
Planning and designing the space took several months, but once construction started, the project was completed in about two months. Getting a building permit from the city took time, and crews encountered problems with drainage in the area that had to be fixed.

Temperatures can spike in Southern California, but residents still can enjoy the garden from glassed-in areas facing the patio and by limiting their outside exposure. Hamilton says she is investigating the possibility of installing a misting system to help keep the area cool.

Gold reports that residents, their families and visitors have responded positively to the completed project. The area can accommodate larger groups of about 50 to 75 people, while alcoves surrounded by shrubbery create more private areas where smaller groups or individuals can observe quiet time.

Palomar's staff members encourage residents' families to picnic outside rather than in the dining room. To promote this, tables and dining areas are designed to accommodate wheelchairs and other special needs in the garden area.

Residents soon will be able to grow vegetables and garden, giving them a greater  sense of ownership. Gold says Palomar also will offer cooking classes using ingredients that were grown in the garden.

“The whole concept of healing gardens goes back so many centuries,” he says, noting the fountains are his favorite feature. “It creates, for me, a quiet area that distracts and covers up the outside noises of the environment. You can sit there and close your eyes and listen to the world around you.”

Lessons learned

--Consider your climate and sunlight exposure when creating shaded and full-sunlight areas.
--Make sure patio and garden grounds are wheelchair accessible and don't pose tripping hazards for ambulatory residents.
--With careful planning, gardens can provide aromatherapy. Use a variety of plants that will be in bloom during key months.

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