Poor access to outdoors linked to depressive symptoms in care homes

Lack of access to gardens and outdoor spaces could have a negative effect on care home residents’ mental health, a study has found.

Lack of access to gardens and outdoor spaces could harm care home residents’ mental health, a study published in The Gerontologist has found.

Picture: Charles Milligan

Researchers visited 50 care homes, including 10 nursing homes, in Coventry, Warwickshire and north-east London, to explore the relationship between depressive symptoms among 510 residents and their physical environments, and the residents' views about the design of the homes in which they live.

About 3% of older people live in care homes in the UK, and more than 40% of residents have significant depressive symptoms.

The researchers found that, while the overall physical environment of care homes is not associated with depressive symptoms, lack of access to outdoor space is.

Restricted access

Residents who were interviewed reported that access to outdoor space was restricted by, for example, locked doors, uneven footpaths, steep steps, inadequate garden seating and the need for permission or assistance to go outside.

The report’s lead author Rachel Potter from the University of Warwick said: ‘Residents may appear to have access to outdoor space, but are prevented from using it independently due to poor physical or cognitive function, or because they need the permission of staff.

‘This may negatively affect residents’ perception of autonomy and mood. Interventions that increase access to outdoor spaces could positively affect depressive symptoms in older people.’

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