Date: February 1st, 2008
“Flowers make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine to the soul.” American botanist Luther Burbank may have been onto something when he proclaimed this in the early 20th century. Many decades later, studies have found that flowers may actually have health benefits—especially for older adults. A 2001 Rutgers University study found that flowers eased depression, improved social interaction, and enhanced memory in adults age 55 and older. The study was partially funded by the Society of American Florists.
The study found that after receiving flowers 81% experienced reduced levels of depression, 40% expanded their social contacts beyond their normal social circles, and 72% scored much higher on memory tests than seniors who didn’t receive flowers. The participants—more than 100 seniors with an average age of 73—were split into groups that received one flower delivery, two flower deliveries, and no flower deliveries over a two-week period. The no flower delivery group did receive flowers at the end of the study.
“The no-flowers groups became irritated and wanted the study to be over and their depression and anger shifted, but the two-doses group got happier and happier and happier,” said Dr. Jeannette Haviland-Jones, a professor of psychology and director of the Human Development Lab at Rutgers who led the study.
The study began with the intent of looking at the effect of flowers on older adults after previous studies had shown a positive effect on people who unexpectedly received flowers. Seniors were reluctant to join the study until researchers agreed to test their memories—so a memory component was added. Participants were asked to keep a daily journal of any social interaction they had. The journals also included questions for the participants to answer. Interviewers then asked participants questions about events recorded in the journals, as well as the flowers they received. In the final interview, memory tasks were included.
“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 lives - and the lives of our aging parents,” said Jones. “Now, one simple answer is right under our noses.”
Another study conducted in 2006 by Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital found that not only does receiving flowers have health benefits, but simply displaying fresh-cut flowers in the home can have advantages. The study found that the presence of flowers in the home increases feelings of compassion, decreases anxiety, and boosts energy and enthusiasm at work. The greatest mood-boosting effects were felt when fresh-cut flowers were placed in the kitchen, dining room, or family room.
Dr. Haviland-Jones currently has a grant to research the effect that flowers have on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients. In an earlier study, a nursing section of an Alzheimer’s unit reported that the day it received shipments of flowers was “always a good day.” With more research we may be better able to understand just why flowers elicit the types of responses found in these studies, and learn how flowers can be optimally used to help Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.