“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” — Author Rachel Carson, marine biologist and conservationist

Getting outside and pointing your face toward the sun does wonders for your heart, mind, and spirit. Feeling a gentle breeze while walking through a garden bursting with colors awakens you to beauty and reduces stress.

The same can be true for hospice patients as they incorporate “nature therapy” which is proven to enhance their quality of life. Read more about nature therapy and how Heart to Heart Hospice encourages patients and their caregivers to embrace nature during their hospice journey.

What is Nature Therapy?

According to WebMD, “Nature therapy, also called ecotherapy, is the practice of being in nature to boost growth and healing, especially mental health.” Other names include green therapy, green care, or horticulture therapy. Nature therapy can be practiced clinically with a trained, supportive professional in a green environment, exploring and appreciating nature to benefit one’s mental and emotional well being. Caregivers and patients can also self-direct some nature therapy practices.

The benefits are so convincing that numerous universities and colleges have dedicated nature-based counseling classes and programs. From processing anger to childhood trauma to facing one’s mortality, nature therapy can benefit individuals during any stage of life.

“Helping patients and families incorporate nature and time outdoors can be a powerful way to improve quality of life and comfort,” according to Home Care Pulse in Nature’s Underrated Role in Client Care and the End-of-Life Experience.

The benefits of nature therapy include:

  • Reduced stress, fear, and pain.
  • Lessened depression and anxiety.
  • Lowered heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Increased engagement and interaction with their surroundings and others.
  • Redirected attention to beauty away from pain or stress.
  • Elevated mood.
  • Improved sleep.

Nature therapy can be paired with talk therapy, medication, spiritual care, and other creative therapies like pet or art therapy to further improve a patient’s quality of life.

Nature Therapy for Hospice Patients

Not all hospice patients are bedridden, and even if they are, creative techniques are possible in order to incorporate nature. Ecotherapy isn’t constrained by seasons, either, though certain climates may be more favorable for outdoor sessions. Warmer seasons like summer may be the perfect time to start nature therapy.

How, then, can hospice team members help patients and caregivers benefit from nature therapy while on hospice? Read the ideas below and ask your hospice providers how to incorporate ecotherapy practices into your care plan.

Get Outside

When possible, direct exposure to the outdoors is highly beneficial. Depending on the patient’s mobility and health, consider these ideas to do with a therapist and/or caregiver:

  • Sit on the porch, taking in the sun and listening to your surroundings.
  • Go for a short walk with a support person (with a mobility device like a walker or wheelchair).
  • Take a short field trip to a local garden, zoo, or park. 
  • Seek out the serenity of water, like the ocean, stream, or lake.
  • Watch the sunset or engage in “dark therapy” like stargazing at night.

Bring Nature Indoors

If a hospice patient is unable to leave the home, bring the outside in. For example, placing their bed or chair near a window can help a patient enjoy familiar neighborhood surroundings, the changing sunlight, and watching people and cars pass by. 

Additionally, if your loved one enjoyed gardening, have them help you pot flowers and engage with the dirt if they’re able. Put their favorite fresh flowers or green plants by their bedside. Incorporate nature sounds like the ocean or birds or play dynamic nature scenes like these videos on YouTube.

Incorporate All Senses

Consider these simple ways to engage each of the five senses in nature therapy.

  • Sight — Watching a sunset, the gentle lapping of water, or seeing a beautiful garden.
  • Sound — Listening to birds, the ocean, or laughter at a park.
  • Touch — Getting barefoot in the sand or grass, planting flowers and feeling the dirt in their fingers, feeling a gentle breeze in their hair.
  • Smell — Inhaling the scent of springtime flowers, fresh air, or even a lightly scented candle inspired by nature.
  • Taste — Indulging in seasonal favorites like ice cream during a summer walk or hot chocolate while looking at holiday lights.

Always remember to put the patient’s comfort first. The goal is reduced anxiety and increased peacefulness. Make sure the temperature is comfortable and they are not overstimulated so they can fully benefit from nature therapy.

Finally, don’t forget that your loved one is the same person they were before. For example, if they loved the ocean, they probably still do. If they enjoyed sports, they may find joy watching a ball game outside. Let their personality inspire and inform you as you incorporate nature therapy during your hospice journey. The benefits are priceless.