Birding Boosts Seniors' Mental Health
Jul 09, 2020
"There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature, the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter."
– Rachel Carson
The health benefits of watching and feeding birds is enjoyed by all generations, but can be especially therapeutic for older people who live in elder care facilities, away from their families and the social routines of their past.
A survey of assisted living and nursing home administrators by Birding magazine* found that the nursing home staff agreed their residents enjoyed watching birds, and that both feeding and watching birds had a positive, therapeutic effect on residents’ morale. These good vibes extended outward to the staff and the institution as a whole.
As a recent example, a chat with friends from the Chamber of Commerce led the owners of the Wild Bird Center of Evansville (IN) to start a “Bird Roadshow” this summer to deliver birdseed, feeders and birdfeeding/watching stories to local nursing home residents. They partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association and Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve, who brought raptors to “enliven” the discussion.
“It was amazing to see how many of them feed birds,” said Greg Miller, WBC Evansville. “Especially during these times, watching birds stimulates the brain and is a great, cognitive exercise.”
The group gathered in small, socially-distanced groups, sharing stories and filling feeders. Fellow Chamber members supported the effort with funds to purchase the donated seed.
Feeding birds can give renewed purpose to the elderly, who may feel adrift after spending a good part of their lives working or taking care of family. Further, it gives those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s a sense of pleasure and focus. Bird watching is an excellent form of active learning; it challenges our brains to interpret color, sound and motion, and to classify the birds who visit our feeders. It’s a treasure hunt for the mind!
If you have a loved one in an assisted living home, providing a bird feeder for them will brighten their days and give them something to look forward to and care for. Birds can be a link to the outside, to those who share the same interests, and as a way to open up communication with other residents. Whether it is something they enjoyed all their lives, or it is a completely new activity, feeding birds is a wonderfully healthy hobby – for young and old!
*NewburyPortNews, March 21, 2020
One of the residents got into the spirit of things by wearing a “St. Louis Cardinals” shirt to the WBC Evansville event.