Rutgers Study: Flowers Boost Seniors’ Well Being

Monarch Butterfly on Butterfly BushWe often talk about the legal forms and agreements we need to have. We discuss long term care insurance and how to make sure we are taken care of (or take care of ourselves) as we age. This time I’d like to talk about something else. Today let’s talk about flowers.

Everyone likes them.  Every woman wants them. Most men don’t mind buying them for their wives, girlfriends, etc.  On Saturday as we walked through the Philadelphia Flower Show I noted the many seniors and mature adults at the event.  Wheelchairs and walkers didn’t stop them from attending to see the magnificent floral displays. This year’s British theme, BRILLIANT!,  included displays of Big Ben, a monument garden with fountains and a gently moving statue (mime) as part of the imaginative display.  Perhaps the show attracted these seniors because they love gardening. Perhaps they just wanted to get out of their homes for a change of atmosphere.  Perhaps it was because even as we age, we remember the happy occasions when flowers were a part of our life celebrations or marked special moments with a loved one. Receiving flowers elicits fond memories for most of us. Perhaps it is simply that flowers make us happy, much like balloons and ice cream and parties. No matter how young or old we are, most of us love flowers.

A 2005 article in Evolutionary Psychology stated that “In Study 3, flowers presented to elderly participants (55+ age) elicited positive mood reports and improved episodic memory. Flowers have immediate and long-term effects on emotional reactions, mood, social behaviors and even memory for both males and females.”

Researchers at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, shared the results of a six-month behavioral study on the health effects of flowers on senior citizens. That study demonstrated that flowers ease depression, inspire social connections and refresh memory. Rutgers set out to explore the effects flowers would have on senior citizens, who experience different living situations and greater life changes. The Flowers & Seniors Study (2001) is the second floral research project conducted by Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Ph.D., professor of psychology, Project Director, Human Development Lab at Rutgers.

More than 100 seniors participated in the Rutgers research study, in which some of them received flowers and others did not.  “The results are significant because as our nation grows older and life becomes more stressful, we look for easy and natural ways to enhance our own lives and the lives of our aging parents,” said Haviland-Jones. “Now, one simple answer is right under our noses.”

The results at Rutgers might interest you.  A large percentage of the 100 seniors who participated reported a reduction in depression after someone gave them flowers. Forty percent of seniors reported broadening their social contacts beyond their family and usual social circle. Seventy two percent of the seniors who received flowers scored very high on memory tests in comparison with seniors who did not receive flowers during the study. The study consisted of 104 participants (94 women, 10 men), ranging in ethnicity, from ages 55-93. To prevent skewed or biased results, participants did not know the purpose of the study.

Could it be that the pleasant scent of flowers stimulating our olfactory sense, the sight of beautiful and fragile blooms as a visual stimulant, and our sense of touch in receiving flowers heightens our awareness so much as to improve memory?  Additional studies have been performed at Rutgers which illustrate individual reactions to flowers show them as mood elevators.

“Happier people live longer, healthier lives and are more open to change,” said Haviland-Jones. “Our research shows that a small dose of nature, like flowers, can do a world of good for our well-being as we age.” If you have aging parents and you want to cheer them up, visit them, share time with them, and next time you do, why not take them a bunch of flowers?

This Rutgers study set out to explore the effects flowers would have on senior citizens, who experience different living situations and greater life changes. The Flowers & Seniors Study (2001) is the second floral research project conducted by Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Ph.D

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