The physical environment, which consists of Outdoor spaces and Buildings, is an important determinant of physical and mental health for everyone. Creating supportive environments, including age-friendly outdoor spaces and building design, can enhance physical well-being and quality of life, accommodate individuality and independence, foster social interaction and enable people to conduct their daily activities.
Focus group results pointed to what seniors and caregivers identify as important aspects of outdoor spaces and buildings. Older adults and service providers in rural and remote communities expressed that “walkable” sidewalks, pathways and trails are very important for older persons, not only because they support safety and physical activity, but also because they enable older adults to get around and take care of their personal and social needs. Participants also identified the importance of having amenities within close proximity of each other. They identified a number of barriers, including a lack of sidewalks (or continuous sidewalks) in some communities, as well as the dangers of walking and using a scooter on busy streets and highways. Even in communities where sidewalks are common, some participants were concerned with the general state of disrepair and lack of maintenance for both sidewalks and trails.
In addition to the importance of walking for such practical purposes as running errands, walking as a form of physical activity has become increasingly common for older persons. Ensuring that paths, trails and walking routes are supported with sufficient washrooms and rest areas (especially benches) makes these areas more usable by seniors.
Seasonal conditions vary throughout the year and clearly have an impact on the “walkability” of communities. Quick and responsive snow-cleaning is appreciated by seniors, although snow clearing can sometimes lead to other problems. For example, snowploughs tend to heap snow along the roadsides which, as several participants noted, can make it difficult for older persons to open car doors blocked by snowbanks.
Buildings with few steps, push-button doors and wheelchair ramps are important for accessibility by all seniors. Aging buildings, however, are often cited as having accessibility problems. More than one participant noted, for example, that older church buildings sometimes have washrooms in the basement, creating a problem for seniors with mobility challenges. In fact, inaccessible washrooms or toilet stalls, stairs and heavy doors were mentioned repeatedly as challenging for older persons.
Overall, the focus group participants expressed that they feel safe and secure in their communities and reported that there is very little crime in their communities. Seniors’ safety and security concerns tend to relate more to worrying about potential accidents, including the fear of falling, which is seen as a limitation to independence and mobility. Similarly, sidewalks or streets that are slippery or have potholes are seen as hazards that make walking unsafe for older adults.
Summary of Key Findings
Results of focus group discussions point to the following highlights with respect to what seniors and caregivers see as important issues and opportunities when it comes to planning for age-friendly outdoor spaces and buildings:
Age-friendly features include:
Age-friendly outdoor spaces and buildings checklist*
*Source: Report on Age Friendly Communities (pdf file)