An aquarium stocked with colorful tropical fish does the trick.

Happiness is watching the pretty things go by – and these seniors were full of eager anticipation as they watched me set up an aquarium at their day care center. Their faces lit up when I released into the once neglected tank, dozens of tiny fish – brilliantly hued neon tetras flitting merrily with multi-colored guppies.

All it took to transform the tank were a few packets of gravel, a dozen aquatic plants, a filter pump, an under-gravel air stone, and an overhead light. And, a deft eye and hand to place the entire lot in a pleasing arrangement. Half-a-day’s work and hey presto, the magic of an undersea world was up and running… adding new life literally to the recreational needs of the center’s seniors.

Mrs. Richards (not her real name), who is 95, likes to spend a few minutes each day watching the fish, especially when they rush to the surface during feeding time. “They are so beautiful… I see they have been growing slowly, but steadily, over the last few weeks.”

Watching the fish in an aquarium brings her a sense of serenity, says Mrs. Richards.

Some dental clinics have taken to placing aquariums in their waiting area. Watching the fish can be effective in reducing anxiety in patients awaiting dental surgery, according to medical studies.

This is especially true in elderly patients who experience reduced muscle tension and lowered pulse rate after watching the fish before going in for treatment.

Sure, maintaining the cleanliness of the aquarium and making sure the water is balanced for the well-being of the fish, can be hard work, in addition to making sure that they are fed regularly.

Fish can also get distressed when the water gets too hot or too cold, or if there is not enough light.

But the effort to maintain the aquarium is worth the while, especially when it brings benefits – the calming effect and a feeling of serenity that it bestows on elderly people when time hangs heavy on their hands.

A Purdue study in 2009 shows that aquariums had a good influence on the nutritional intake of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Patients exposed to the aquaria averaged an increase of 17.2 per cent in the amount of food they consumed. Weight also increased significantly, and the patients required fewer nutritional supplements.

In addition to the nutritional benefits, there was also a noticeable decrease in physically aggressive behaviors among the patients.

Feng shui advocates also say that moving water is considered beneficial in balancing “chi”, and a well maintained aquarium in the right location increases wealth and luck.

What next? Perhaps a koi pond in the open area outside the day care room, where flowering plants already abound. Seniors sitting around a koi pond may well feel refreshed as they enjoy a spot of sunshine, watching the graceful sight of swimming koi.

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