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Starting the Dialogue with Your Aging Parents: Keep it Safe

January 20, 2014

Last week’s blog post was about getting your aging parents or elderly clients started with a garden for nutritious food and increased physical activity. As an avid gardener and someone who enjoys the taste of home-grown food rather than the cardboard tasting veggies found in the grocery store I love talking about this subject and can get sidelined in rhapsodic bliss thinking about the fresh veggies to come. That being said I hope today’s post will dig a little deeper into some of the how-tos that can make it possible for your folks to enjoy a safe experience as they explore the joys of gardening.

First come the planning. Help your parents decide where to plant and in what manner. Do they have space in the yard to actually turn the soil and grow some crops? Maybe there is no room so container gardening would be better.  Are there issues of being able to bend so that raised beds will be needed or benches with containers? Some medications can cause dizziness so take that into consideration.

How much time to they want to spend?  Is money an issue in getting started? Are there things that are easy to grow that they will use frequently or are they picky eaters and need just a few varieties to satisfy their appetite? How physically active have they been and will they need additional help with the garden throughout the growing season?

Finances can be a big part of how the garden gets planned. If there are extensive costs involved in building benches and buying containers, soil, and setting up a watering system this needs to be explored before starting the project. If the budget won’t handle all the items needed then get a little creative in seeking cast off items that can be re-purposed.  There is a website where I find lots of good information on how to save money and grow food for little money. It is the “Homestead Survival” site and has plenty of articles and extensive archives with wonderful solutions to almost any gardening problem.

As the planning gets underway it’s time to think about Safety while gardening. If plants are going directly in the ground or in raised beds make sure there is enough room between rows for easy ambulation and without the risk of falls. Anyone working in the garden should be wearing closed toe shoes that are easy to walk in. Gloves are useful, not necessarily a requirement, although they help keep the fingernails cleaner and protect against the sting of insects or thorns on berry plants.

I suggest a nice wide  sun hat for both men and women to protect the face and neck from too much sun and also to cut glare. Sunglasses are a good choice as well for easing the strain on aging eyes. A lightweight long-sleeved shirt protects from sun exposure on the arms and is helpful in keeping bugs from biting. Obviously working in the heat of the day can cause sun stroke so encourage your parents and clients to work in the cooler parts of the day and to remain well hydrated.

Tools can make gardening easier and it is best to keep those tools in good condition. Rakes, hoes, and even shovels can be purchased that are small and lightweight for those who aren’t able to wield hefty objects.  I’ve even bought child-sized implements for some of my more frail clients. If container gardening then handheld tools are lightweight and easy to use.

Depending on the budget for the garden there are various ways to keep the plants watered and weed-free. Spraying with  a hose is always one option, as are soaker hoses, irrigation systems, and furrowed irrigation channels. All work. It depends on the size of the garden and the financial and time budgets. One of the most relaxing things for me while working a stressful job a few years back was to come home and stand out in the garden watering my plants with a hose. This was my  relaxation time and gave me great comfort.

Straw, leaves, or wood chips make great mulch and keep the need for weeding down. Speak with your local nursery  about their recommendations. At this time of year many tree trimmers are out and about in my neighborhood. They shred the tree limbs as they cut them and offer the wood chips free of charge to anyone who wants them. Many cities and small towns also run similar programs so it’s worth asking around to see if that is an available option.

Since this is a garden for your parents or clients be sure to ask them how they want it set up, what the budget is, and how they want to care for it. Good luck, happy planning, and I’d love to hear how things turn out.

If you have a successful story on any topic related to your aging parents or elderly clients please feel free to share in the comments. Your interaction is very important to me.

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