There are around 54 million people over the age of 65 in the US, contributing greatly to an “aging population”.
Because of that, the country is starting to see an increase in age-related health conditions, including mobility issues. So many indoor spaces aren’t well-suited for seniors that have to use wheelchairs or other devices to help them walk, and that’s a big problem.
What might be worse, however, is the lack of accessible outdoor spaces for seniors. Multiple studies have shown the physical and mental health benefits of spending time outdoors. Because seniors can struggle with things like depression and isolation, they need to spend time outside.
So, what can you do to help make an outdoor space more accessible for the senior(s) in your life?
The Benefits of an Outdoor Space
If we were to list all of the benefits of outdoor spaces, you’d be reading for hours. For the elderly, it’s one of the keys to “staying young”. It can also help with feelings of isolation and loneliness. Some of the basic health benefits seniors can experience from spending time outside include:
- Breathing better quality air
- A vitamin D boost
- Improved mood
- Reduced mental health issues
For someone dealing with a condition like Dementia or Alzheimer’s, spending time in an accessible outdoor space can even calm their symptoms. People with those conditions often struggle more when they are under stress. Being outside reduces stress levels and can help with relaxation, creating a calmer and more peaceful environment.
From a physical standpoint, being outdoors can be hugely beneficial for the elderly. Even for someone with mobility issues, spending time outside can boost your activity levels. You can walk using assistance down a designated path, or get more familiar with a wheelchair on different types of terrain.
If you’re a caregiver, consider the type(s) of outdoor spaces the senior in your life might enjoy. For example, some people love being around the water. It provides a relaxing environment and is often very private. It can also encourage better sleep and boost the immune system.
Introducing Universal Design
One of the best ways to create an accessible outdoor space is to implement universal design.
This approach focuses on additions that make a space accessible for everyone, no matter how mobile they are.
When it comes to an outdoor space, some universal design elements to consider include:
- Wider walking pathways
- Wheelchair ramps
- Fences for safety
- Comfortable furniture for seating areas
- Adequate lighting
You can even make things like gardens more accessible by building raised beds and making sure they’re enclosed. Consider how to keep seniors active and stimulated while they’re outside, and design your spaces around those ideas. That might include something as simple as several pathways for walking to a full-fledged vegetable garden they can enjoy all summer.
It can take a bit of creativity and basic building knowledge to put some of these elements in place. But, if you’re caring for an older individual who loves spending time outdoors, creating accessible spaces is crucial.
Just as important as creating a safe space now, however, is making sure it’s well maintained. You never know how the senior in your life’s condition may change as time goes on. Keeping an outdoor space in top shape will ensure they get to enjoy it for years to come without an increased risk of injury.
Don’t Overlook the Details
Even with a universal design in place for outdoor spaces, there are little things to consider to make sure it’s truly accessible. Start with the most important aspect of a space — the door.
If a doorway is hard to open, heavy, or has a lip that makes it hard to cross over with a wheelchair, it’s going to be difficult for a senior to get through it on their own. It’s also a good idea to have a “transition space” between an indoor/outdoor space. Seniors can be prone to vision issues and their eyes may have a harder time adjusting from outside lighting when they come back in. Creating a shady entrance area will allow that transition to happen slowly and comfortably.
Another small detail you shouldn’t forget in your accessible outdoor design is the landscaping design.
Plants, trees, shrubs, and flowers can add so much life and intrigue to an outdoor space. But, plants that become overgrown or have vines may eventually cause barriers. They could also be tripping hazards. Make sure any landscaping you do allows for clear walkways and is consistently maintained.
There’s a lot to keep in mind when it comes to creating outdoor spaces for seniors. But, the benefits outweigh the work involved. If you’re a caretaker or looking after your aging parents, keep these ideas in mind to make sure they have a safe outdoor space to enjoy as often as possible.