The Technical Side of Green


There probably isn’t a person big or small that doesn’t like the view of a lush countryside, bubbling brook, or vibrancy of the Fall colors in the Midwest to brighten his or her day. “Natural elements grab and hold our attention in effortless ways, even in urban settings,” and this has a profound beneficial effect on us according to research by Dr. William Sullivan, Professor and Head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at University of Illinois.  In his book chapter* entitled, “In Search of a Clear Head,” Dr. Sullivan shares research supporting the premise that:

It is clear that being in or looking onto a green space can improve people’s ability to focus their attention. But is the effect of green space on attention useful to a variety of people under a variety of circumstances? The evidence shows that a wide range of people benefit from exposure to green spaces. Studies have demonstrated links between green spaces and higher performance on attentional tasks in public housing residents, AIDS caregivers, cancer patients, college students, prairie restoration volunteers, and employees of large organizations.

Green spaces help us to recover from mental fatigue, help us make better decisions, and behave with less irritability. Simply put for our homes, work, schools, and communities:

               We need nature at every doorstep!

Further, the more senses that are engaged, generally the more stress reduction occurs as well. In one study, students looking out a classroom window onto a natural space had the power to improve test accuracy TENFOLD! So why are we sending students into windowless classrooms? This is something important to think about as we craft study and workspaces at home and in our communities.

So you might ask if these benefits would include an adult playing golf? A child engaged in athletic team sports? “Yes” for the golf although probably more from the exercise than the putting “greens,” and “No” for outdoor sports. Although the playing field may be a green space and it is usually good to be outdoors, the benefits are better during unstructured activities. Better examples would include walking in display gardens (!), growing a few vegetables, viewing natural waterways, and even observing animals in their native habitats. Taking a walk outside is generally a good idea for many reasons yet in another study, only students who walked in an arboretum showed statistically better test scores than ones who walked in the downtown area of their college town.**

To boost the restorative benefits of everyday contact with gardens and green spaces, view and actively engage in those spaces around you. Such is the heart of the Master Gardener program at Cooperative Extension Offices throughout the United States!  Trained volunteers engage the public in educational, exploratory, and experiential gardening activities:  the fun and heart of what we do as Master Gardeners for persons young and old. A little “dose of nature” is a great low-tech idea for all of us.

Julie, O.T.

Advanced Master Gardener

*Fostering Reasonableness: Supportive Environments for Bringing Out Our Best; Edited by Rachel Kaplan and Avik Basu.

**Based upon William Sullivan’s lecture entitled “Attention Restoration” presented at Gardens that Heal: A Prescription for Wellness; Chicago Botanical Garden, 5.10.17.

brook, bubbling, Fall, Midwest, Indiana, Master Gardener, photo, yellow, orange, green, rocks, river, stream, Pufferbelly, Trail, Path



The view out the window

A few years ago I was working with a lady and her caregiver in a lovely home at the end of a tree-lined cul-de-sac.  The picture window in the great room at the back of her home looked out onto a park-like setting with a collection of bird feeders and baths at varying heights.  Feathers fluttered, birdseed scattered about, and splashes sparkled in the sun as those birds had a blast out there!  And the delight for my client was clear . . .

bird bath, 3 birds, splash, garden, summer, spring

She got it right.  I felt honored to be her occupational therapist in home health care to assist in problem-solving some transfer techniques as her condition continued to deteriorate.  I’ll call my patient “Sandy.”  She once worked as a Vice President of a large local car dealership.  Knowing her neurological condition was progressive, Sandy and her husband designed and built a completely accessible home long before the term age-in-place became mainstream.  I recall zero thresholds to enter the front door, wide doorways and hallways, an elevator for accessing the second floor, and more.  One key element was missing, however:  a mechanical lift to assist her petite caregiver in transferring Sandy from her recliner chair to her modified wheelchair.  Sandy didn’t want one however, which posed a grave risk for injury to her and her caregiver.  They decided to have Sandy’s husband continue to complete the transfer with maximum assistance.

I quickly learned that the focus of Sandy’s treatment would need to be on the tasks that mattered most to her.  Our treatment plan included training her caregiver in safe methods to provide Sandy passive and active-assist range of motion exercises, beginning when the patient was still in bed.  This positioning protected Sandy’s shoulder girdle and allowed for better body mechanics for her caregiver providing them.  When Sandy was out of bed, her focus changed to sensory delights for her abilities that remained intact:  a large T.V. screen cable-connected to her laptop and the outside world, hard candies, and her feathered friends just outside her window.  The last one was my favorite and the one that came to mind as I looked out my own sliding glass door this afternoon.

Splish-splash, they were taking a bath!  First one then two then one chasing away a third with the flaps of her dripping wings, oh my!  I was resting after a long morning of gardening at our local extension office when this simple pleasure caught my eye and my heart.  I wondered how Sandy was doing on this very pretty Fall day?  Oh how I wish she knew how much she taught me about savoring moments like these.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to share this insight with you as well.  Please take a moment to enjoy something like this today too, k?

Take care,

Julie, O.T.

Video on Fall Prevention Strategies

Thank you to the American Occupational Therapy Association for this video on simple strategies for preventing falls around the home.  Falls are not a part of normal aging nor dealing with chronic illness.   Many simple strategies can help to prevent falls when they are caused by hazards in the living environment.