By Cynthia Watson, Doreen Bwalya and Donna Lowe
Dr. Joanne M. Westphal, Professor of Landscape Architecture, Michigan State University, discussed Gardens, Medicine and Health Care: Past, Present and Future at ESF on Tuesday, February 7, 2006 to launch the annual SUNY ESF’s Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Spring Seminar Series. Dr Westphal’s seminar was jointly sponsored by the Faculty of Landscape Architecture and the Women’s Caucus at SUNY-ESF.
Dr. Westphal discussed several issues of health in the built environment including design that complements medical treatment protocols, therapeutic site designs and post-construction evaluation of therapeutic site designs.
Historically, gardens were a fundamental element in health care systems and occupied the center core of hospital compounds. Gardens were regarded an essential aspect of treatment for hospital patients; until the 1880’s every medical facility in Europe and the United States had gardens for patients to ambulate. However, as new discoveries were made there was a tremendous shift in hospital design. Hospitals were built up instead of out and the center core formerly occupied by a garden was replaced with mechanical and specialty units. Essentially the “Germ theory” coincided with the demise of the garden in hospitals.
Today health care professionals such as Dr. Westphal support the idea that positive health benefits can result when “active living components,” including gardens and open spaces, are incorporated into the designs of hospital and health care facilities. Dr. Westphal and her research team conducted a study to evaluate the effects of the presence of therapeutic gardens on post-treatment recovery for patients suffering with third stage Alzheimer’s Disease. They found that there was a significant reduction in aggressive behavior and blood pressure, and that less “as needed” medication was requested by or for patients who spent as little as ten minutes walking or resting in a garden. The implications of these passive garden experiences for hospital patients can be tremendous; resulting not only in improved patient health but also substantial savings in medications and reduced stress to health care staff.
Dr. Joanne Westphal is a practicing landscape architect and licensed physician in Michigan. A member of the School of Planning, Design and Construction at Michigan State University, her specialty areas involve environmental design, therapeutic site design, regional landscape design, and research methodology.