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The role of social and therapeutic horticulture (STH) in enhancing the lives of people in palliative care was put in the spotlight at Thrive’s annual Thriving Together conference.

The work of STH4PC, the STH for Palliative Care Interest Group, which is made up of occupational therapists, nurses, consultants, counsellors, horticulturists, gardeners, volunteers and others, was highlighted at the one-day continuous professional development and networking day in January.

The conference heard that the group is promoting the use of STH in palliative care settings around the country, as well as hospitals.

Supporting people to live fully until they die is a core principle of STH, Chrissie Carden-Noad, the group’s chair, told delegates.

The benefits of engaging participants in meaningful and valuable occupations through nature include psychological restoration, offering a sense of achievement, social interaction, empowerment, a sense of belonging and engagement of the senses, among many others.

How is STH work in palliative contexts measured? Chrissie uses the Therapy Outcome Measure and assesses people’s quality of life and wellbeing before and after sessions through a distress thermometer which has a 0 to 10 scale, as well as periodic questionnaires.

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Conference delegates doing an exercise under Chrissie's guidance

Stressing the importance of a person-centred approach, Chrissie said, `If you can support patients to ‘be away’ and help them feel engaged, such as focusing on gardening, it gives them a break from their illness, and restores their personhood.’

While poor weather can make getting outside to use hospice gardens difficult, table-top gardening offers a year-round approach and can include activities such as:

  • Pricking out
  • Planting up
  • Vegetable growing
  • Creating hanging baskets
  • Propagation

When people are immersed in this therapeutic intervention, opportunities for more heartfelt conversations about end-of-life issues are likely to arise between therapists and fellow patients.

Dementia-friendly outdoor spaces created for care settings

The gardens of 30 dementia care settings across the country have been rejuvenated to improve the quality of life of service users.

Find out more