An innovative community outreach project by students and faculty members in the Ohio Northern University College of Pharmacy was recently featured in a professional publication. “Remembering Your Roots: The Role of Horticulture Therapy in People Living with Dementia” was published in a recent edition of the “Ohio Journal of Public Health.”

The outreach endeavor, which captures the essence of service learning, involves gardening and realizing its impact on challenging dementia-related behaviors with residents of Vancrest of Ada health care center.

The article was written by Raabe College of Pharmacy professors of pharmacy practice Kelly Kroustos and Kristen Sobota; recent ONU pharmacy graduates Gretchen Horning, PharmD '20, and Jennifer Gurevich, PharmD '20; and current student Anna Gurevich. The students are members of ONU’s chapter of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists.

According to the paper, the horticulture therapy project resulted in a reduction in behavior and psychological symptoms (BPSD) in dementia. The project is especially relevant in this setting, with many of the Vancrest of Ada residents having grown up in farming communities. It also is an extension of other outreach efforts the College of Pharmacy has with these elderly residents, such as a music therapy program that is also focused on addressing dementia symptoms. ONU alumnus Martha Mazak's, BSPh '82, contributions to the Ohio Northern chapter of ASCP were significant in supporting this effort.

The horticulture project was a student-driven initiative.

“Three pharmacy students who are members of our ASCP student chapter approached us about their interest in gardening and the impact it has on people living with dementia,” Kroustos said. “To begin, we investigated literature surrounding the use of gardening and horticulture in improving the quality of life as well as decreasing anxiety, agitation and depression in people living with dementia. We were astounded at what we found and realized this activity would fit well at Vancrest of Ada.”

This is the type of experience that provides students with a well-rounded educational experience and prepares them for career success by emphasizing attributes beyond technical skills.

“This activity could engage students at any level in their academic careers and is not limited to only health care professional students,” Sobota said. “Within the health care field, it is truly linking management of dementia symptoms with compassion toward that population. Meaning, they get to see how powerful being ‘human’ truly is.”

The project also continues the community engagement efforts, which are a hallmark of the ONU College of Pharmacy, as well as the university as a whole.

“The connection with the college, community and Vancrest of Ada has been truly magical,” Sobota said. “Continuing to involve and actively pursue ways in which intergenerational events can be incorporated into the care of residents of Vancrest and the curriculum of the College of Pharmacy is a win-win situation. The students find a wonderful source of happiness, stress relief and human connection with the seniors at Vancrest. Also, the enriched interaction of an activity such as gardening, where the seniors are experts, allows them to educate the students.”

The horticulture activity was especially meaningful during these difficult times.

“During this pandemic, our students have sincerely missed the seniors at Vancrest of Ada,” Kroustos said. “The majority of regular student participants have continued to stay connected via social media and will frequently comment on the Vancrest posts. We consider the seniors at Vancrest of Ada to be part of our family.”