"Healing gardens" within a health-care environment are an emerging trend in the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom. These specialized gardens are designed to support a patient's physical, psychological, and emotional well-being.
The Providence Center for Faith and Healing, in Spo-kane, integrated a meditation garden in the late 1990s. Spokane's Hospice House offers three different meditation gardens throughout its four-acre site. In 2008, the Serenity Garden at Coeur d'Alene Homes was one of the region's first purposely-designed dementia gardens.
In Portland, Legacy's Good Samaritan Hospital and Emmanuel Children's Hospital, as well as the Oregon Burn Center, all have integrated therapeutic healing gardens into their rehabilitative programs. Seattle's Children's Hospital also supports a healing garden. Patients receive physical, occupational, speech, and horticultural therapies, among others, in a healing garden environment.
Many people believe healing gardens represent a new movement in health-care delivery, but actually these specialized gardens date back to the medieval monastic period. Healing gardens also were used in 19th Century mental asylums, and in rehabilitation programs serving World War II veterans returning from war.
But there has been resurgence in the presence of healing gardens within hospital campuses, senior housing, and rehabilitation facilities. This resurgence began in the early 1990s, when a shift in health-care design began to focus on what's called patient-centered care. Today, the integration of healing gardens is becoming an accepted industry practice when planning new medical facilities or retrofitting existing ones. Although some of this resurgence is driven by consumer demand, research also supports a garden's inherent value.
In 1984, Dr. Roger Ulrich published an article in Science Magazine that corroborated the value of a patient's access to nature. His groundbreaking study discovered that post-op surgical patients who had views of nature from their hospital rooms had shorter inpatient stays and required less potent analgesics for pain control.
Two decades after Ulrich's work was published, research studies continue to support his findings and build on that body of data. For example, we now know that patients, their families, and health-care staff report a greater sense of satisfaction when offered access to healing and therapeutic gardens in health-care environments. People exposed to nature have lower blood pressure and heart rate responses, along with reduced levels of cortisola hormone released in stressful situations.
Hospitals, insurance companies, and other medical services experience real monetary savings when patients are discharged earlier and require less medicationand when a content nursing staff delivers better quality care with less staff turnover.
Health-care environments are one of the most stressful surroundings people encounter. Patients and their families routinely face the uncertainty of surgical procedures or the outcome of a threatening diagnosis. People feel a loss of personal control over the situation and the potential outcome, along with a sense of isolation.
A healing garden offers a place of restoration from such stress. It offers a peaceful, serene place to escape the clinical treatment room with its antiseptic smell. A well-designed healing garden provides people with opportunities for movement and social interaction with family or other patients. The garden also offers passive engagement and tactile experiences with natural distractions, such as water, lush plantings, fragrance, color, and sound. Immersion in healing gardens and nature lessens the human stress response and results in improved health outcomes.
A successful healing garden will provide opportunities for movement, exercise, and physical therapy treatment. This may take the form of looping pathways, purposely designed staircases or ramps, and raised-bed gardens fully accessible to people requiring the use of wheelchairs, walkers or IV poles. It doesn't have to be elaborate, large, or expensive.
Water features often are found in healing gardens. They provide a beautiful visual distraction and compel people to engage by touching flowing water. An added benefit is the ability to muffle the sound of helicopters and ambulance sirens arriving at the emergency room. Water features can be simple as a small bubbler fountain or urnor they can be elaborate as cascading falls, water walls, and streambeds.
An effective healing garden will consist of about 25 percent hardscape and 75 percent vegetation, designed to engage the senses. Plant material should be colorful, seasonal, and have texture and form. It provides visual and tactile interest which can compel people to touch and engagesoothing sounds as leaves and ornamental grasses rustle in the breezeand fragrances that remind people of a distant memory.
Throughout the country, healing gardens are being used in many types of health-care settings. Some are designed for programmed rehabilitative activities, preparing patients for discharge, while others are designed for restoration and respite.
Healing gardens also can be designed to address specific medical needs. Specialized gardens can be designed for dementia; children with autism, cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy; schizophrenia; and drug-rehabilitation conditions.
Successful healing gardens are created when qualified landscape architects with healing garden and health-care experience collaborate with health-care staff, current or former patients, and family members.
This combined effort results in a natural environment that will make a positive impact on a patient's well-being.
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