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Urban Cowboy: Residents who saw green ate and drank better

Could green be inspiring? It just might be
green wall
Portable green wall environmental enhancement unit. Photo courtesy of Karen Shlemkevich

In the winter, I wrote here about a University of Guelph graduate student trying to help residents in long-term care facilities (such as nursing homes) improve their food and beverage intake, by enhancing their dining environment with greenery that’s part of a portable wall.

The student, Karen Shlemkevich, a master’s student in the University of Guelph’s School of Landscape Architecture, was studying with Prof. Nate Perkins. Previously, she had spent several years working in long-term care facilities, where insufficient eating and drinking can lead to big problems for such residents.

She and Perkins thought the residents might find greenery inspiring. And now, it looks like they were right.

For six weeks in January and February, Shlemkevich worked with staff and residents in St. Gabriel’s Villa, a 140-resident facility in Chelmsford (near Sudbury), on her “green wall” research.

As described in my previous column, the wall is a free-standing, two-part structure on casters, about eight feet wide and five-and-a-half feet tall. It holds around 100 plants (ivy, coleus and spiderwort), located in pockets affixed to it.

For the first two weeks of the study, Shlemkevich looked at the residents’ food and fluid intake, to establish a baseline. No wall was present then.

Then, she wheeled the wall in to one of the facility’s dining rooms, and placed it in a locale where a group of 34 residents had their meals.

Only one group of people had a direct view of it. Another had a partial view, and a third group couldn't see it at all during meals (it was behind them).

For four weeks she studied their intake. Then she crunched the numbers.

Her analysis, which finished up earlier this summer, showed that there was a significant increase in fluid and food intake for the group of residents who faced the green wall.

The other two groups’ intake did not change. 

Shlemkevich notes that it was noisy and even chaotic during her research, as a result of some other additional activities taking place that were not related to her study.

That may have had an impact on the other participants and contributed to their decreased intake, she says. Or it may have made the case for a green wall even stronger.

“The wall offered one group of residents something to focus on, and may have allowed them to essentially block out the chaos around them,” she says. “The rest of the residents could not use the green wall as a positive distraction, and instead were likely affected by the excess movement and noise in the dining room.”

Shlemkevich and Perkins may be onto something here. No firm plans exist to move the study forward, but Shlemkevich is discussing more green wall promotion with a Toronto manufacturer, for other long-term care facilities.