In these later decades of life, I have come to see even more fully the value of being immersed in the natural world. The lessons I learn from among nature’s small and large wonders form the basis for this series of blogs. In this final entry in the series, I explore some practical ways for caregivers to bring older adults together with the natural world.
Since interactions with nature can be helpful—even therapeutic—for older adults, how can those of us who are caregivers, friends or family members help increase the frequency and intensity of those experiences?
The first thing we probably need to think about: What constitutes “the natural world”? Sure, magnificent vistas and stupendous displays of nature’s beauty. But let’s extend our imaginations a bit: The natural world is also closer to home, more approachable. A sunset or sunrise, the nearest lawn or meadow. One tree or bush in a yard or parkway. A hand-picked bouquet of flowers. Leaves on trees—fall, summer and spring. Walking or taking a drive together in the crisp air of winter.
(A side note from the in-nature times my wife and I shared with our elderly mothers: These experiences bring special meaning when we who are caregivers come along with our beloved elders.)
Consider all the possible places where the natural world is waiting to teach any of us about ourselves, our lives and other people. Certainly the place(s) we call home, but also locations like care facilities’ patios, local parks or nature reserves. Brooks, lakes, ponds—and oceans—are wonderful places to sit and watch the natural world reveal itself. Zoos include accessible natural settings as part of their context. Arboretums, pettings zoos—yes, for older folks, too! Surprising pocket-sized pieces of nature are available in almost any situation: Container gardens, bird feeders, a collection of indoor plants, a telescope ready to peer out a window. A recurring walk through our neighborhoods.
And when we’re in our shared nature-space, we can observe and converse about what we notice. (That experience can include all our senses, especially hearing and smelling.) There may be even greater enjoyment at hand if we do something once we’ve arrived. We can get close—bringing magnifiers or binoculars. We can touch or move an interesting item. We can care for a part of the natural world dear to us—watering, trimming, dead-heading spent blossoms, planting, thinning, removing dead leaves, fertilizing. We could clean or tidy up a public place. We might take a series of photos or selfies to make into a photo album. After a rain, we could sit on a porch or balcony with a cup of coffee in hand. We might bring nature back home–gathered flowers, leaves or seeds. We could participate in a care facility’s programs that bring nature to residents. Sharing a quiet time, just listening to what’s happening around us. Telling stories that come from remembered experiences—”What’s this remind you of?”
As you can imagine, there are plenty of opportunities for older adults to connect with the natural world, each one providing pleasure and delight that an elderly friend or relative might enjoy!
As you dedicate yourself to joining your loved one to the natural world, consider these general hints:
• Let the older persons set the tone and bring meaning from their own reference, keeping their abilities in mind.
• Start with short, simple excursions or happenings, then build gradually towards longer and more extensive events.
• Try the same experiences at different times of the year.
• Conversation or quiet—either one can add to the depth of feeling and well-being.
• These moments immersed in nature can evoke spiritual depth. Be ready to listen as those feelings come to the forefront.
The net effect of being fully present in the natural world is gratitude and heightened well-being. By engaging in nature-experiences with an older adult, you allow God’s creation to work wonders in the life of beloved elders. Truly a gift!
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