What Is Elderyarding®? Adaptable Yards and Gardens for Aging in Place

Aging in place with container gardening.

Elderyarding® Is an Aging in Place Approach to Yard and Garden Design

Whether it's tending a vegetable garden you've planted in containers to provide wonderful fresh produce close at hand or installing an even-surfaced pathway for walking meditation in your backyard, thoughtful garden design for independent living provides you with benefits far beyond healthy, delicious food and aesthetic beauty. 

Connecting with nature can keep help to keep you vital, healthy and engaged as you age. In fact, a recent study published by ScienceDirect outlines the fact that being involved with a garden has positive effects both physically and mentally.

Adapting your landscape as you grow older can help keep you physically and mentally engaged throughout life. As boomers begin to age and are working hard to remain healthy and vital, you're being introduced to new language and concepts like “aging in place” and “independent living.” A term trademarked by Second Summer is Elderyarding®, which moves the concept of a safe, easy-to-use living space into a personal, deliberately designed yard.

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Let's first take a look at some of the benefits that being involved with garden spaces can provide you as you grow older and how adapting your gardens for aging in place using “Elderyarding®” concepts can keep you united with nature for the rest of your life!

Reduce Stress and Anxiety as You Age in Place

Many of you are opting to remain in your homes as long as possible. Building a connection with nature can help you to minimize physical and mental changes,  improving your quality of life. It's a well-known fact that sunlight and views of the natural world can help to keep depression at bay. Well, gardening builds upon this effect when it comes to producing “feel-good” chemicals. Studies have found that Mycobacterium present in soil can actually trigger the release of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that is largely responsible for stabilizing your mood. 

Gardening can be enjoyed by anyone, at almost any fitness level. Think about it - your typical picture of "working in the yard" involves physical activity that can burn up to 150 calories an hour. That type of gardening offers the body the opportunity to build muscle and sweat, both critical for overall health.

Gardening in containers, while not as physical, offers many health benefits, too. Packaged potting soils may not generate serotonin like the soil in your flower beds. But experiment with one pot of actual garden soil to let yourself "play in the mud" and connect with the soil bacteria.

Just being in the garden or looking at the garden also reduces stress and depression  through feeling the sun and breezes, noticing plant colors, watching birds and insects. Depression as you age is often not discussed, but it's a real concern in older adults. Another recent study found that physical activities like gardening can help to cut the risk of Alzheimer's disease by nearly 50%! Perception of nature can help keep your brain sharp. Nature and garden experiences have been found so helpful in slowing the progression of dementia that senior care centers often include gardens and use horticultural therapy with residents.

But why wait for a nurturing garden until you're ready for a nursing home?

Taking an Elderyarding® Approach to Aging in Place Garden Design

Keeping a partnership with nature in a garden requires planning and occasional updates to adapt to your needs as you age. At Second Summer, the process of  Elderyarding® includes the design and development of adaptable yards and gardens that meet the lifetime needs of homeowners who choose to age in place. The research on how to design outdoor environments for senior apartment complexes, assisted living facilities memory care centers and nursing homes was the starting point for a process applicable to homeowners. That research was tweaked and evaluated to develop five key principles for Elderyarding®. Here's how to apply these five principles in your own garden.

1. Navigating

Make the yard safe to navigate. Create or repair paths and walkways to be wide enough to handle a walker or wheelchair if needed in the future. Immediate installation can be a soft surface like mulch if a harder surface isn't required immediately. Check for small changes of level that could be a tripping hazard for reduced eyesight or unstable balance. Not ready to think of this for yourself? Make the yard safe and comfortable for visitors!

Use even lighting to illuminate changes in surface level like steps, even for one step change like a deck sitting slightly above the surrounding area. The lighting doesn't need to be bright, but avoid sections that switch from light to dark since older eyes adjust more slowly. You say you don't garden? Analyze lighting in task locations for faucets, outdoor electrical outlets, and recycling bins used even if garden tasks aren't part of your job list.

2. Handling Outdoor Tasks

Once the main walking surfaces and lighting are in order, evaluate how you manage tasks in your yard like checking the mail, taking out the trash, putting out holiday ornaments. Ensure your shed or garage storage area is easy to access and well-lit. If you habitually do small yard errands in your slippers, try putting a bench just inside or outside the door for a quick change into shoes that provide more foot stability. Add a basket nearby with tools like your pruning shears, bug spray and a flashlight. Keep everything ready to use. Test the new ergonomic tools that cushion your hand or adjust to your reach and take the effort out of tasks that arthritic hands can struggle with.

3. Taking Your Senses into Account

You are a unique individual with five senses who perceives nature differently from anyone else. Analyze your yard for delight. Use colors, fragrances, surfaces, and sounds in your yard that evoke personally pleasant memories and present-day enjoyment. Because your senses can fade with age, the yard is a beautiful location to stimulate the nerve connections to the brain and help to keep both senses and memory sharp. Evaluate everything, alternately paying attention and daydreaming to identify your preferences.

If you move to a different city or state, perhaps to be closer to family, you may still have a garden. Consider how to plant and furnish that garden to remind you of other life experiences in other locations. You may not be able to grow the same plants in a new city, but you can see similar flower colors, touch fuzzy leaves or rough bark that connects to your memories, and enjoy similar fragrances. Customize your space to meet your preferences and experiences, further strengthening and supporting brain health. 

4. Keeping Your Garden Accessible as Your Needs Change

With age, accessibility to your garden can become more of an effort, especially if a chronic illness is involved. However, studies continually show that fresh air, a daily 20-minute dose of sunlight and even the minor exercise involved in a short walk, are essential to retaining your health, relieving stress, and helping your body to heal more rapidly. To plan for physical changes, include comfortable seating in both sun and shade, sited to minimize glare. Recognize that more resting spots can be added as needed, from a new bench with solid arms to a big rock with a perfect sitting hollow to a tree that's good to lean against. Think about how to draw yourself outside with intriguingly touchable plant combinations in doorway gardens and colors and scents throughout the yard that stir curiosity and invite stepping outside to explore. Plan, too, for great views from inside your home, from all rooms. Allow yourself to participate in nature through the windows, too.

5. Anticipating the Future and Taking Control

An Elderyarding® design anticipates your changing needs in the future and is ready to accommodate them as you age. You don't have to make every change at once. However, with a plan you are in control of how you experience the world outside of your home in your yard or garden. When your plan gives careful thought to items such as smooth, foot-friendly paths, additional lighting, moving favorite plants to patio containers, and height controls for faucets and bird feeders, you know exactly how others can help you. You are able to hint for the perfect ornamental tree to be planted closer to your ding room window or for a self-watering planter to use growing herbs on the patio. Learn about the physical and mental changes that can happen and plan for them, including changes in garden layout to transform standard garden designs such walkways disappearing around a corner with later needs for clearly visible garden layouts that accommodate way-finding and memory.

Getting connected with nature can help to keep you active and healthy as you age. Creating an Elderyarding® design in your landscape can keep you safely out in the yard or immersed in the excitement of the natural world close up for your health and delight.  

So what do you think? Is Elderyarding® an approach that makes sense to you?

Ann Yakimovicz