New Study And DVDs Highlight Importance Of Outdoor Access in Senior Living

Think providing outdoor access to the natural surroundings of senior living isn’t that important?  Think again.  A recently produced set of videos entitled “Access to Nature” created by a Texas A&M University (gig ‘em) architecture professor examines opening outdoor access for the elderly and overcoming barriers that keep them from venturing outside.  In interviews with about 1,600 people from 68 randomly selected assisted-living facilities across the U.S., professor Susan Rodiek concluded that most facilities provide outdoor space for residents, but residents typically don’t use them as much as they could.  Rodiek’s research focuses on architecture, especially the design of facilities for the elderly and health-care settings, with an emphasis on human-behavior research. She is holder of the Ronald L. Skaggs Endowed Professorship in Health Facilities Design.

The three-year project, funded by two Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the National Institute on Aging totaling almost $850,000, led to the creation of the three-DVD set, "Access to Nature for Older Adults." Rodiek created and served as program director for the project, which was developed at the university’s Center for Health Systems & Design and remains – to the best of Rodiek’s knowledge — unique.

"There’s a lot of research that shows spending time outside can have major health benefits for older people," Rodiek said. "If a facility resident goes outdoors for even five or 10 minutes a day, it can greatly benefit health, mood, sleeping patterns, hormone balance and vitamin D absorption. Unfortunately, the physical environment is not typically designed to support residents’ desire to go outdoors – the problems may be easy and inexpensive to fix, but often they are not recognized by staff and administrators.”

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"Access to Nature" features current research findings in gerontology, psychology and design, as well as comments from residents themselves, providing designers with guidelines for creating outdoor spaces seniors will use. The series also helps avoid pitfalls, such as “invisible” barriers, which prevent easy access to outdoor features.  The prototype of the DVD set recently won the “Environment and Design” Award from the Center for Excellence in Assisted Living, a nonprofit collaborative of 11 national organizations that promote excellence in assisted living.

The "Access to Nature" program is packaged in three 30-minute video DVDs, with a total length of approximately 90 minutes.

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  • “Part 1: The Value of Nature for Older Adults” demonstrates the importance of having people, policies and programs that support seniors’ outdoor usage. Experts in environmental psychology, design and gerontology identify key issues in planning outdoor spaces, and how experiencing nature may benefit health and improve quality of life.
  • “Part 2: Improving Outdoor Access for Older Adults” illustrates a variety of ways a building’s layout can encourage residents to go outdoors. Case studies, sketches and models show how to make strong indoor-outdoor connections, remove “invisible” barriers and create successful transition zones, both when planning a new community or remodeling an existing one.
  • “Part 3: Safe and Usable Outdoor Spaces for Older Adults” shows how – by using the right elements – outdoor spaces that were previously underutilized can become inviting, functional and well used. Case studies, 3-D animated examples, diagrams and sketches show how to transform existing areas by emphasizing features that appeal to residents, while supporting their need for autonomy and independence.