Effect of Garden Walking on Elders with Depression

Photo by Naomi Sachs

One of our members, a hospice RN, sent me this interview with Dr. Ruth McCaffrey, DNP, Sharon B. Raddock Distinguished Professor in Holistic Nursing at Florida Atlantic University. It was originally published in the digest of the American Holistic Nurses Association.

How have you come to study garden walking for older adults with depression?
I have been working over the last three years on developing an evidence-based program using reflection during garden walking to increase life satisfaction and reduce depression. The work began as collaboration between the Morikami Japanese Museum and Gardens and myself. The Morikami has had many people write letters and tell them that the gardens had a healing quality and helped them in a time of great sadness or in a time when strength was needed. The garden designer has created several gardens in the Japanese healing traditions and uses the idea of nine healing elements in nature. We were able to apply for and receive a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services to create a research study with three different interventions, individual reflective walking, guided imagery walking and a comparison group who had art therapy. From that work we developed a book for use in an individual reflective walking program through the garden with a group session at the beginning of the walks, after three weeks and again after six weeks. This program has proved to be very successful and popular…

We have just received a grant from the Astellas Pharmaceutical Company to pay for 30 groups to participate in the reflective walking. These groups would consist of caregivers, those in support groups and professional care givers such as nurses, physicians, teachers etc. We plan to hold an international conference at the Morikami to share findings from our work with other gardens around the country.

What is it like to be studying this topic?
Studying this topic has been a great pleasure. Not only have I been able to work to create a beautiful and meaningful program but also I have met so many wonderful individuals who have completed the walks. To hear the stories of people that feel the program changed their lives and provided them with a new outlook on life has been extremely gratifying.

Tell us how your work has evolved?
The current program has been on going for three years with walking programs in the fall and spring. The program consists of 12 themed walks that take the participant from awareness to fulfillment. One of the members of the board of trustees from the Morikami participated in the walks and found that it dramatically changed his life. He said that when he started the walks (at age 84) he felt his life was almost over. As he finished the walks he said he realized that there was so much more open to him and that his life had been rich and blessed in many ways that he could now share with others.

What are your biggest challenges in doing holistic nursing research?  
I am very blessed to live and work in a community that values holism and holistic care. My mentor in holistic nursing Eleanor Schuster was one of the early Holistic Nurses of the Year for AHNA and someone who guided not only my growth and understanding of holistic nursing but created a foundational acceptance of holistic nursing in the south Florida community of nurses. Since then the Christine E Lynn College of Nursing has had a tradition of fostering and honoring holistic nursing in education, practice and research. Our university has just opened a medical school and I am honored to present a lecture to medical students each year on holistic health as well as complementary and alternative therapies. The biggest challenge I have found in holistic research is to find ways to take therapies that essentially affect the whole person and measure the outcomes in ways that more traditional researchers find acceptable as evidence.

What advice can you share with holistic nurses that want to do research?
Be as creative as possible in research design and in attempting to secure funding for large projects. Creating partnerships for holistic research is also very useful. There are many groups outside of nursing who could become partners in order to show the effects of holistic care, interventions and the importance of outcomes of this type of research. People are interested in ways to maintain their own health and take charge of their well being. Many desire using therapies and concepts based on holism and evidence based programs that foster well being are exciting to individuals, groups and communities.

What keeps you inspired to keep doing research?
The inspiration comes primarily from the wonderful research participants and partners that come together for the purpose of exploring and understanding holistic therapies and becoming more enlightened about themselves and the world in which they live.

Full citation: McCaffrey, R. , Hanson, C., MLS, McCaffrey, W. (2010). “Garden Walking for Depression: A Research Report.” Holistic Nursing Practice, 24(5):252-259.