Do you remember the story by O. Henry … The Last Leaf? Young artists Sue and Johnsy lived on the third floor of an old Greenwich Village apartment building. An old man named Behrman, also a struggling artist, lived on the ground floor. Johnsy had pneumonia and like many in Greenwich Village, was probably going to die. A long branch of ivy hung outside her bedroom window and she declared that when the last leaf fell, she would die. Her friend Sue was frantic and arranged for Mr. Behrman to secretly paint an ivy leaf on the outside of the window, so Johnsy would not lose hope. Sue’s scheme worked and Johnsy recovered. The irony of O. Henry’s story is that Mr. Behrman died two days later from pneumonia. He had climbed his ladder to the third-floor window during an icy rain, returned to his apartment where he was later found still wearing his wet clothing with his paint and brushes scattered on the floor.
I have always loved this story. The impact the last leaf had on saving a life is all-telling. We need nature in our lives … in good times as well as in bad times. My dad couldn’t wait to plant his ‘green onions’ each spring. He would make daily trips to the farm store to buy the onion sets. He would watch his vegetable garden grow. He would harvest seeds from Mother’s flowers and make sure that she had lush flower beds. Her roses always bloomed in the brightest colors. I didn’t inherit his green thumb, but even I enjoy watching plants grow.
At Integrity Healthcare Communities, we know the importance of creating green space for our residents to enjoy. Our facilities have beautiful flower beds, blooming trees and plenty of perennials. Many of our facilities have large mature shade trees over patios and decks, while others have spots that are drenched in sunshine. Gardening is a part of life at Integrity and our Activities Departments have already started seedlings in pots indoors … waiting for the times to transplant them in outdoor gardens and pots.
Why do we do this? The answers are important.
We know that spending time outside increases the levels of energy in our residents. University of Rochester Psychology Professor Richard Ryan says that, “Nature is fuel for the soul.” His research found that 90 % of his respondents reported that when they were involved in outdoor activities, their energy level increased. That’s important!
A University of Minnesota study revealed that senior citizens between the ages of 65 and 86 reported that spending time outside motivates them to be more active physically, spiritually and socially. At Integrity Healthcare Communities, we know that the smell of freshly cut green grass and blooming purple petunias can help fight depression because we see it happening every day.
Could spending time in nature help with memory problems? An Association for Psychological Science article indicates that senior citizens who interact with nature have improved memory performance and attention spans by 20%. It is the lack of stress in the natural setting that helps our bodies restore our mental abilities.
If you are charged with the care of an elderly friend or family member, make sure they spend time outside. You don’t have to head to the rustic nature trails in hiking boots! If your community doesn’t have an easily accessible public park, there are probably other settings you haven’t thought about. Often times libraries, churches, universities and hospitals have beautiful garden settings with plenty of space to sit and enjoy the surroundings. In many communities, there are little pocket parks dotted around in retail and restaurant neighborhoods. If your loved one is homebound, position window flower boxes or big planters in locations for them to enjoy. Nature makes all of us feel better and spring has finally sprung!
We are Integrity! We are Care You Can Trust.
Debbie Moore, Regional Director of Business Development