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Design of senior housing doesn’t cause depression, but access to the outdoors is needed, study finds

Portland Memorial GardenindexThe physical environment in assisted living facilities is unlikely to negatively affect the mood of residents, but poor access to gardens and outdoor spaces could.

Procedural, staffing, and physical barriers can prevent older people from using outdoor spaces and that access to the outdoors is significantly associated with depressive symptoms, researchers at Warwick Medical School and WMG at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom found.

The researchers studied the physical environment of 50 assisted living facilities in Coventry, Warwickshire, and Northeast London and looked for any link with the depressive symptoms of 510 residents in the facilities. They also interviewed some residents living in the facilities to find out what they thought about the design of the facilities they lived in.

Residents expressed little interest in the décor of the assisted living facilities and appreciated features of the facility that increased opportunity for social interaction and promoted independence and function, said Rebecca Cain, Ph.D., from WMG at the University of Warwick.

Even the physical presence of good quality outdoor space didn’t appear to have an impact. However, access to outdoor space was the single environmental variable that did significantly predict depressive symptoms. Residents interviewed reported that access to outdoor space was restricted in many ways: locked doors, uneven footpaths, steep steps, and needing permission or assistance to go outside.

“Residents may appear to have access to outdoor space but are prevented from using the outdoor space independently due to poor physical or cognitive function, or need the permission of staff to use the outdoors, reasons that may negatively affect residents’ perception of autonomy and consequently their mood,” Rachel Potter, Ph.D., from Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick said. “The findings of the study suggest that interventions that increase access to outdoor spaces could positively affect depressive symptoms in older people.”

These research findings are helpful to those selecting an assisted living facility for themselves or a family member.

Many other additional factors should be considered. See “Choosing Care in an Adult Family or Assisted Living Facility” for a helpful checklist to fill out for the facilities visited.

Copyright 2017, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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