Effects of the Forest Therapy on Physiological, Psychological and Cognitive Health in the Elderly
With the advancement of modern medical technology, the prolongation of average lifespan, and the decline of the fertility rate, the ratio of the elderly population in Taiwan is rapidly increasing, and it is about to enter a super-aged society in 2025. Aging not only faces a decline in physical function and cognitive ability but also changes in psychological stability and social interaction, which lead to stress and increase the risk of geriatric depression in the elderly. The benefits of forest therapy have been considered to contribute to human health worldwide, primarily physiological and psychological effects. Unfortunately, relevant research in cognitive health is limited. The present study investigated psychophysiological and cognitive health benefits changes after a 7-day forest therapy program in the Xitou Nature Education Area, Taiwan. Thirty-eight elderly participants (70.7 years on average) have joined the program. This study aims to investigate the effect of forest therapy in terms of psychophysiological and cognitive for the elderly.
The research design adopted a single-group pretest and posttest. The measurements included physiological responses (pulse rate, blood pressure, and rulse rate variability); psychological indices (Positive and Negative Affective Scale, 15-item geriatric depression scale, and Rumination Response Style Scale); cognitive measurement of working memory (Digit Span), attention control (Stroop Color and Word Test ) and creativity (Chinese Word Remote Associatives Test, CWRAT). Also, the background information and Mini-Mental Status Examination were measured to investigate individual differences’ influence. The level of participation is measured by the number of visits, accumulated time, and distance collected by the GPS receivers. The descriptive statistics, paired samples t-test, and Pearson’s rank correlation coefficient were used to analyze the results.
The results showed that the pulse rate is significantly higher and the parasympathetic nervous system is significantly lower after the program. The sympathetic nervous system and blood pressure have no significant difference. Here, we show that the effect of forest therapy can differ depending on a subject’s initial values and that forests have a blood pressure adjustment effect close to an appropriate level. The results showed that the psychological indices’ changes were insignificant. This study found that the cognitive benefits of forest therapy were significant differences, such as working memory (Digit Span), attention control (Stroop), and creativity (CWRAT) increased after the program. The number of visits, accumulated time, and distance had no significant correlation with physiological, psychological, and cognitive functions. In general, this study determined that forest therapy is a promising therapeutic method for enhancing cognitive health benefits and is effective for elderly individuals.