Aging is inevitable, but no less frustrating for those who go through the changes and grapple against the obstacles it brings. For seniors and veterans, enjoying the things they love can be a struggle. They may encounter challenges with health, strength, and mobility. Sometimes, it’s no longer possible for them to take part in physical activities and certain sports. More often than not, adjustments must be made to their daily routine.
Veterans often experience the same things, especially those who are older. On top of the challenges brought by aging, they also face common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. They may find themselves readjusting to a life outside the military. There are cases when they feel on edge and on the verge of panicking.
Both groups of people do not have to accept their limitations as the norm. To help them deal with the difficulties they are facing and to alleviate the distress they are feeling, beekeeping is introduced as a good therapy. Many believe this hobby can improve one’s mood and encourage them to live in the moment.
Beekeeping therapy has grown more popular in recent years. This guide is a way to help seniors and veterans navigate this seemingly novel concept and get one step closer to better wellbeing.
- The beekeeping industry was valued at $717 million in 2021..
- Globally, there are 20,000 distinct species of bees. While this number is astonishing, it has recently come to light that the bee population is in decline.
- Bees play an extremely important role in biodiversity, pollinating plants that humans consume. In fact, around 75% of the world’s produce depends on pollinators.
- More than 1,000 plants grown for food, spices, medicines, and more require pollination, often with the help of bees. This includes well-loved food like coffee, tomatoes, blueberries, and countless others.
- Beekeepers in the United States number between 115,000 and 125,000, with 2.71 million honey-producing colonies generating 1.48 million pounds of raw honey in 2020 alone.
- The USDA considers beekeeping hobbyists as those with 25 colonies or less. They, along with part-timers, account for approximately 40% of the honey production.
The Basics of Beekeeping
Beekeeping has been around for ages, providing honey and wax. Beginners might find it hard to start this endeavor, especially when they don’t have an ample idea of what the process entails.
Of course, the best place to start is by reading guides and related literature on beekeeping to gather ideas and insights. This will help one know the equipment and supplies they will need to begin their beekeeping journey.
They might also want to read up on the different bee species. If they prefer to raise honey bees, then the following are some of the most common:
- Western honey bee
- Dark or German honey bee
- Italian honey bee
- Carniolan or Grey honey bee
- Caucasian honey bee
- Iberian honey bee
- Africanised honey bee
The very first step in the beekeeping process is buying the bees. It might seem strange, but most bees are pre-ordered. When spring is underway, most bee shops no longer have bees to sell. That is why the best time to order is January. The shipment or pick-up can be arranged in the months of April and May.
Once the buying of the bees is out of the way, beginners can choose the hive system they prefer. The Langstroth hive is composed of stacked boxes, with each box containing frames where bees can build their comb and store honey. When one needs to access the bees and perform other beekeeping-related tasks, all they have to do is pull the out the drawers and remove each box, layer by later.
The other system is called the top-bar hive. The frames are arranged horizontally instead of stacked on top of one another. This system allows bees to make comb without a foundation. The bar that contains comb and honey is pulled up out of the hive from the top. The top bar typically requires less lifting due its horizontal position, making it easier for those with less flexibility, back injuries or limited mobility.
Once the hive system is sorted out, it is time for the aspiring beekeeper to gather the supplies they need. There are stores that offer beekeeping kits to make the process easier. They will then need tools, protective clothing, and feeding supplies.
The exciting part of the process comes when it is time to introduce the bees to the hive. The bees will need to get settled in their new home. The only thing left to do is to observe and monitor the bees. This will require regular checking and ongoing care.
What Veterans Can Get from Beekeeping
While many people delve into beekeeping to generate income, hobbyists join the journey for a variety of reasons. Veterans, in particular, can take advantage of its many benefits.
Some veterans incurred physical injuries that impede their everyday movement and routine. Common injuries include traumatic brain injury, nerve injury, spinal cord injury, hearing loss, tinnitus, migraines, joint injury, and chronic headaches.
Beyond the injuries that can be seen by the eyes, veterans also suffer a variety of problems that wreak havoc on their overall quality of life, such as the following:
- Sleep problems
Of all these health problems, difficulty sleeping tops the list. Statistics say that 78% of veterans and service members experience sleep problems. An effective therapy, like beekeeping, can alleviate their struggles and help them live a more normal life.
Veterans who are left untreated often end up relying on alcohol and drugs. Their mental conditions prevent them from functioning properly as civilians in society. This means they can find it difficult to find and hold down a job, which in turn, can lead to financial troubles.
All these issues can contribute to negative thoughts and moods. They will also feel disconnected from family members and friends, believing no one can really understand their ordeal. This can result in graver consequences, with cases of suicide and dementia common among many veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs emphasizes the importance of therapy and treatment for veterans suffering from various disorders. Annually, more than 1.7 million veterans receive mental health services at the agency. The support they provide includes counseling, medication, therapy, or a combination of these options. Therapy is important for veterans in many ways:
- Veterans with PTSD are often given mood-stabilizing drugs to address depression and anxiety issues, along with the reduction of stress and improvement of sleep patterns.
- Most therapies address the emotional pain that can help veterans re-establish positive social relationships.
- Rehabilitation therapies are also common, often aiming to help veterans address cognitive, emotional, and behavioral deficits.
- Helping veterans through therapy can lessen the possibilities of serious and dangerous actions that may lead to abuse, homelessness, suicide, and more.
While evidence-based practices, like psychotherapy and group therapy, are still considered the gold standard in treating veterans, they do not always work. Some veterans turn to complementary or alternative therapy methods. These include exercise, yoga, acupuncture, and meditation.
Another type of therapy comes in the form of beekeeping. As a hobby, beekeeping can help people with mental health problems, especially those who struggle with sleep, anxiety, and depression. It is a perfect solution for veterans who find it hard to lead a productive life after years of service.
Beekeeping for veterans has grown in popularity in recent years. So how can beekeeping exactly help veterans? Here are some of the ways:
- Most beekeeping programs incorporate mindfulness practices. This helps alleviate distress and improves their mood. It can also help to minimize their anxiety and panic attacks.
- In beekeeping, there is a great need to maintain a calm mind. This trains one to mind their movements and to focus on the positive rush of adrenaline.
- Veterans taking part in the beekeeping process will be more conscious of the world around them. Being around honeybees, they will be able to relax as they sit and watch the bees come and go.
- Beekeeping also helps them focus on their current task, keeping them from making mistakes. They will easily bring their minds back to what they are doing instead of dwelling in the past or being anxious about the future, as any misstep can lead them to be stung.
- It also offers opportunities for healing by feeling more connected to nature. The idea of working on and nurturing the bees contributes to an overarching mission of keeping the bee population safe. Plus, it helps with pollination, which plays a huge role in ensuring humans can grow plants and fruits for food.
What Seniors Can Get from Beekeeping
Many senior citizens feel the decline of old age. It can be hard for them to find a hobby that will give them freedom of movement. Being cooped up inside the house can feel lonely and depressing. To encourage them to enjoy the outdoors, a garden can be a good motivator.
Having a little piece of nature that they can tend and nurture helps seniors move and get outside, without being too physically taxing. It can take their mind off the aging process and how it has affected their way of life. Even better, introducing bees into the garden can be beneficial for everyone involved. The bees will serve as pollinators, ensuring the plants grow and thrive, with flowers blooming everywhere.
On the other hand, homes for the aged should consider not only putting up and maintaining a garden where seniors can relax and enjoy the sun but also introducing the idea of beekeeping therapy for seniors. Here are some of the compelling reasons to do so:
- Beekeeping gets them involved in a relaxing activity. Often, all they need to do is to sit in front of a hive and watch the bees. There is so much they can learn from observing these hard-working creatures. This helps stave off the effects of cognitive aging.
- The buzzing of the bees can fill the void in one’s head, encouraging them to live in the moment and put their full attention on the bees. It is a sensory experience that can inspire relaxation.
Non-Profit Bee-Related Organizations That Support Seniors and Veterans
There are various organizations in the country that promote beekeeping to support seniors and veterans. Most of these are nonprofit. Some of them include the following:
Bees for Vets – Founded by Air Force veteran and beekeeper Bill Reynolds, Bees for Vets helps veterans acquire their own equipment and teaches them how to keep bees.
Beekeeping Veterans – This organization offers a wellness program that combines beekeeping with the practice of mindfulness to help veterans deal with distress and improve their mood.
Bee Lab at the University of Nebraska – This group aims to understand the various stressors affecting the health of bees. They sometimes run outreach and education programs that seniors and veterans can take advantage of.
Bee Veterans Program at the University of Minnesota – This program introduces the therapeutic benefits of beekeeping for veterans. They provide the materials and necessary training for them.
Heroes to Hives – A unique program offered by Michigan State University, Heroes to Hives addresses veterans’ financial and personal wellness by providing them with professional training and development centered around beekeeping.
Hives for Heroes – A national non-profit organization for military service veterans, Hives for Heroes puts their focus on the conservation of honey bees to help veterans make a healthy transition from service.
Beekeeping as a therapy might be a novel idea to many, but it is certainly worth a try for seniors and veterans. It offers a wealth of benefits that can help them lead happier, healthier lives close to nature. They will also have a renewed appreciation for all the work bees have done for the ecosystem.
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- VA mental health services. (2023, January 11). Veterans Affairs. https://www.va.gov/health-care/health-needs-conditions/mental-health/
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