Landscape design for older people. Sensory Trust.

via Landscape design for older people. Sensory Trust.

As we grow older many of us look forward to a time when we can give up work and do a little bit more of what we fancy… we know it does us good. A lot of us may think about walking in the countryside, travelling to new places or perhaps spending days whiling away our time in our own gardens. However, as we grow older our bodies and senses have a slightly different idea about what they want to do and are not quite as enthusiastic as they once were. We should try not to let this get the better of us and we should remember that our general health and wellbeing is dramatically affected by our relationship with the outdoors.

We often hear people say ‘get out more’ and we often feel that we should. And yes, we do live in a country where the weather is not always great but as Billy Connolly says ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather just the wrong clothing!’

However we must be a little bit sensible here and consider certain things to ensure we can all go out and have a good time. There are a few points to consider that can help make sure we are all happy and safe in the great outdoors. These considerations can be applied to any outdoor site, from public parks to private gardens and will help make the experience more accessible and enjoyable for a wider range of visitors, not only older people.

Mobility – As we age, many of us experience mobility difficulties. This could be walking more slowly, a lack of strength or stamina, or needing to use a mobility aid such as sticks or a wheelchair. The design of an environment can work with or against us. The slightest design detail that may previously have gone unnoticed, such as steps, or slopes with uneven or slippery surfaces, can now become an obstacle that may prevent us from visiting a site or seriously spoil our enjoyment once we are there.

Reach – For many of us as we grow old, bending down or reaching up can be difficult. This can make it hard for us to appreciate planting at ground level or above head height. If possible it is beneficial to bring some plants up to a reachable height, this can allow for the appreciation of textures and scents.

Visual impairment – To begin with we might joke that we just need longer arms but eventually we realise that actually our eyes could do with a little help. As we get older our vision can be affected in various ways, we may find that certain darker colours filter out, making it easier to see yellows, reds and oranges than dark blues and greens. A reduction in depth perception can make it more difficult to see changes in ground levels. Our eyes can often become much more sensitive to glare which can make reflective and shiny surfaces difficult to see clearly. Changes in level such as steps should have high contrast nosing, and signage should have good contrast and use non-reflective materials.

Sensitivity to weather extremes – Elderly people are often much more sensitive to extremes of temperature and rapid changes in temperature. As mentioned before, appropriate clothing is a must for a good outdoor experience. It is also important to know there is sufficient shelter and shaded areas for us to use within an outdoor space. Seating should also be considered in these spaces for those who prefer a more passive rather than active involvement.

Impairment of mental faculties – As we age it can take us longer to respond to hazards and we may experience a greater occurrence of memory loss. The design of a site can help support this by ensuring it is both dependable (a place we can always rely on to be safe and comfortable) and uncomplicated (so we do not feel we may become lost).

Erosion of confidence – This can be one of the major reasons that elderly people lose connection with their environment. As getting around becomes more difficult, our confidence that we can handle any situation can also dwindle. As we age, we often feel more vulnerable and things that may have once been straightforward can now become a cause for worry; transport and getting to a place, who to go with, getting around a site, having the right equipment, clothing and so on. All of these aspects can be supported by good information to help answer any questions of concern.

Design solutions
Disorder Implications for design Design solutions
Sensory loss,
e.g. hearing, sight
Reduced sensory perception Safe materials, plant selection for texture, scent, colour and safety
Neurological conditions
e.g. stroke, Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease
Reduced mobility, loss of strength and stamina, loss of balance, reduced agility Unimpeded access, secure, non-slip surfaces, hand rails, raised beds, frequent resting points, choice of route lengths, features of interest near buildings
Reduction in intellectual, motor functions, e.g. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia Altered mobility, tiring sensory perception, danger of wandering Unimpeded access, interest near building, use of courtyards, non-hazardous materials and plants, no sudden changes to familiar surroundings (e.g. path layout)
Respiratory conditions
e.g. bronchitis, emphysema and asthma
Breathlessness. Limited mobility, tiring easily, loss of strength and stamina Unimpeded access, raised planters, choice of route lengths, frequent resting points, features of interest near buildings
Cardiovascular condition
e.g. peripheral vascular disease, angina, breathlessness
Limited mobility, tiring easily, loss of strength and stamina Unimpeded access, raised planters, choice of route lengths, frequent resting points, features of interest near buildings
e.g. drop attacks, postural hypertension
Reduced confidence in mobility. Problems from sudden changes in posture Secure, non-slip surfaces, hand rails, non-hazardous materials and plants. Raised beds for gardening/plants
Skeletal conditions
eg. arthritis, bone disease, e.g. osteoporosis,
Limited mobility, painful movement, increased risk of bone fracture, loss of strength and stamina, reduced reach and grip Unimpeded access, secure, non-slip surfaces, hand rails, raised beds, frequent resting points, choice of route lengths, views from buildings, features of interest near buildings
Incontinence Travel can be restricted Features of interest near buildings, choice of route length
Hypothermia Vulnerability to extremes of temperature Shelter and shade

Table reproduced from ‘Landscape design for Elderly and disabled people’ by Peter Thoday and Jane Stoneham. 1994.