New horticulture initiative helps tackle mental health issues for elderly

Date published: 12 October 2017

Elderly prisoners at Magilligan are being introduced to horticulture and bird-keeping as a part of a new rehabilitation and healthier life-style project.

Dozens of prisoners aged between 50 and 79 are being encouraged to grow vegetables and flowers in a new recreation area which also houses an aviary.

Potatoes, carrots, leeks, cabbage, lettuce and tomatoes are among the vegetables being grown in raised wooden garden boxes to give elderly prisoners and especially those in wheelchairs, easy access. And in an aviary, built by prisoners themselves, budgies, cockatiels, finches and quail are also being cared for.

Magilligan Prison Governor Gary Milling said: “Social isolation and loneliness are real issues for many senior prisoners and can often lead to mental health issues. But by encouraging a more active, physical life-style we can help ward off or lessen some of the health challenges. Research has shown that caring for birds can reduce tension, improve a person’s mood and even help decrease depression.”

Senior Officer Wendy Graham who runs the senior project at Magilligan said: “The whole idea behind the horticulture and bird-keeping is to create a daily focus for the elderly prisoners. The vegetables are planted from seeds, tended and nourished to encourage growth and then eventually harvested, and we’ve already had a crop of potatoes and vegetables this year which we are encouraging the prisoners to include these in their diet.

“The birds, like any other pets, require daily care and we know that when elderly people have pets for which they are responsible, they may be more motivated to take better care of themselves. That could mean being vigilant about taking medication and eating right, being more active every day which also encourages better sleep.”

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