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Easier access to outdoors lifts mood in older people

Making it easier for older people to go outdoors could positively affect depressive symptoms, research suggests.

Making it easier for older people to go outdoors could positively affect depressive symptoms, research suggests.


Care home residents may need permission to go outside. Photo: Charles Milligan

Interventions that increase access to outdoor spaces could positively affect depressive symptoms in older people, research suggests.

Researchers at Warwick Manufacturing Group and Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick examined the relationship between the design of care homes and depressive symptoms of older people living in such homes.

Around 40% of residents living in care homes in the UK have significant depressive symptoms.

In a prospective cohort study the physical environment of 50 care homes was measured using the Sheffield Care Environment Assessment Matrix and depressive symptoms of 510 residents were measured using the Geriatric Depression Scale.

Needing permission

The study, published in the journal Gerontologist, was supplemented with semi-structured interviews with residents living in the care homes.

Researchers highlighted how access to outdoor spaces in care homes was restricted in many ways.

Restrictions included needing permission or assistance of staff to go outside, uneven paths and inadequate seating in gardens.

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 permission from staff to go outdoors, reasons that may negatively affect residents’ perception of autonomy and consequently their mood.

Lead author Rachel Potter from Warwick Medical School said: ‘The findings of the study suggest that interventions that increase access to outdoor spaces could positively affect depressive symptoms in older people.’


Potter R et al (2017) The Impact of the Physical Environment on Depressive Symptoms of Older Residents Living in Care Homes: A Mixed Methods Study. The Gerontologist. doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnx041

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