Nature is Healing Even at Hospitals

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 1:54 PM by Betty Brennan in Design and Planning

Can designing in nature elements in our healthcare facilities help patients heal?  There is much research that shows the healing benefits of a connection with nature.  Of course, this can help you live a healthier life at home, too.

My lifestyle with horses, a home with views to woods and a river, and a farm includes nature everyday.  Yes, there are sacrifices like not much TV, yet it brings balance and healthy behaviors to my life.  Recently, I was feeling blue.  I went to feed the horses.  Just being outside with the sun on my face, the wind blowing my hair, the sway of branches in the distance and the touch of a horse brought a smile to my face.  Often nature brings even more grandeur than those simple things.  Nature brings awe and gratitude.  That same day as I was feeding a magnificent Eagle flew right over my head.  I’m still high on that beautiful experience.

My mother passed away over a decade ago now, yet I remember that time vividly.  She had been moved to the hospice ward of the hospital after months of struggling and lots of hospital time for my family.  I was determined to get her home and we did.  Even though she could not communicate well, it was clear she wanted to look out the window and see the birds and trees.  We set up bird feeders where she could view them and hoped for birds everyday.  Nature was bringing solace to her last moments on this earth.

Much of the evidence-based research for nature in hospitals describes these benefits:

  • Reduced stress/anxiety

  • Reduced pain

  • Improved patient satisfaction

  • Contributes to emotional well-being

  • Less medication needed

  • Improved concentration

  • Improved immune system

  • Cost savings by improving medical outcomes

  • Improved job satisfaction of staff

  • Lower infection occurrence

  • Improved sleep

  • Lower blood pressure and heart rate

Designing a healing environment may not be so much about the cure, but about the balance of all things human.  A healing environment is one that promotes harmony of body, mind and spirit.  Designing for this more holistic approach can then impact outcomes.  Given the research and the logic that nature is healing, why not add more nature elements to hospitals?  What if there was a simulated forest with structural columns wrapped with trees.  The trees could have a canopy with the leaves filtering the light that hit the floor.  Maybe the sounds and smells of nature are added, too.  Or even a sprinkling of nature throughout a hospital with murals, pictures and videos of nature.  Of course, several outdoor or indoor gardens could also enhance this healing environment.  It seems hospitals would be more about healing if they were designed with nature in mind.  Biophilia is getting humans back in touch with nature.  The Greek root of the word means “love of life.”  The Greeks designed nature into their healing environments, why did we ever stop?

The Research:

Zborowsky, Terri and Kreitzer, Mary Jo; Creating Optimal healing Environments in a Health Care Setting, Minnesota Medicine, March 2008.

Ulrich, Roger S.; Evidence Based Environmental Design for Improving Medical Outcomes, presented at Healing by Design – Building for Health Care in the 21st Century conference in 2013.

Witte, Victoria; The Healing Power of Nature; Clemson University Feature Stories, July 14, 2011.

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