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URI students plant ideas for a healthy lifestyle

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Therapeutic gardens improve quality of life for seniors

KINGSTON, R.I. – October 1, 2008 -- Morgan Fielder and Wendy Baker understand the joy that comes from being outside and working with plants. Combining their love of gardening with their studies, the University of Rhode Island students built the Providence Therapeutic Garden at Golden Crest Nursing Home in North Providence.

As part of their leadership project in the doctor of physical therapy program, Fielder and Baker, both residents of Providence, worked with Shannon Izzi, the activities director at Golden Crest, to develop a program to help residents. They built a wheelchair-accessible garden that helps residents improve their strength and flexibility through exercise. The social interaction for those in the garden also helps avoid the sedentary, isolated lifestyle that can set in for the elderly and persons with disabilities.

“Creating an environment that increases their feelings of home is so important to the residents,” Baker said. “They can create and cultivate and add a feeling of productivity that is so critical to filling their days.”

Over the summer, Fielder and Baker built 14 standing tables and five planter boxes on stilts, which were installed in two courtyards at Golden Crest. Their design allowed everyone, regardless of limitation, to work in the gardens, where they grew flowers, vegetables and herbs.

“We tried to find an activity where we could incorporate natural movement,” Fielder said. “The bending and lifting involved with the gardens helps the individuals build strength while they are performing an activity they enjoy.”

“This activity helps to get the residents outside and allows them to take responsibility for the care and maintenance of the garden,” Baker said. “This is really their garden and labor of love.”

In addition to keeping the clients active, the gardening helps prevent such health problems as hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, to which elderly and persons with disabilities are susceptible. From the opening of the garden through the end of the summer, more than 40 people from Golden Crest participated in the activity.

“It also helps from a mental health aspect,” Fielder said. “They are working with other people, interacting with one another.”

To make the gardens a reality, Fielder and Baker worked with Janice Hulme, an assistant professor in physical therapy, to develop a business plan. They received a $3,000 grant from the Vigneron Foundation, and secured an additional funding through donations from the law firm, Marasco & Nesselbush and the Web design firm, Embolden Design.

“This project was very redeeming,” Fielder said. “It was a lot of work, but it was designed for a purpose. I love gardening, and to be able to share that with other people while also being able to help them was a great feeling.”

Fielder and Baker are continuing their work with the therapeutic gardens and would like to develop similar programs for children. They also plan to involve younger URI physical therapy students with the Golden Crest gardens.

“Our goal is to find someone to take the reigns,” Fielder said.

Pictured above
URI students Morgan Fielder (left) and Wendy Baker built a wheelchair-accessible garden to improve the lives of residents at the Golden Crest Nursing Home in North Providence. The garden helps individuals like Mary and Elliot improve their strength and flexibility through the natural movements used in gardening.