Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"Helping People Adjust To The Outside of Their Homes Again"

As the season is changing from winter to spring, a major adjustment in activities is about to occur. Once again, people will be outside to pursue activities they enjoy. In most parts of the country, winter has meant that people have stayed indoors more than they were outside.

With snow, ice, and cold temperatures characterizing the past few months, the outdoor activities have mostly been put on hold for the winter. There are hearty ones who enjoy being outside even in very cold or icy conditions, but most people - especially those who are older - enjoy being warm and dry indoors. Depending on where people live, the daylight hours have been relatively short also so sometime during the fall, outdoor activities started winding down in favor of spending more time inside.

People with low tolerance of cold temperatures and those with balance or mobility concerns (with or without assistive devices) don't do well outside during the winter months. Falling on snow or ice covered sidewalks, driveways, steps, and roadways is always a concern for them and there is no reason to risk an injury unnecessarily. Even walking the dog on a leash can be unsafe if the footing is treacherous.

But now we about to leave that icy weather behind (for most parts of the country) and look forward to spring and the excitement that it brings. That will morph seamlessly into summer for even more good times outside (unless it gets excessively warm).

So as people are preparing to go into the backyard again after the winter, what has changed from a season ago or a year ago - for them physically or even for their yards? What was usable or accessible during the last time they spent any amount of time in their yard may be less so now. It's time for an assessment or evaluation of their space.

We need to help people determine if their balance, mobility, stamina, tolerance for sun exposure and generally being outside, and other issues permit them to enjoy their backyards as much as they have in the past. After reviewing their physical ability and sensory perception needs, we should look at what is present and consider pathways, fire pits, water features, summer kitchens, barbecue areas, gardens, planting sheds, pools, spas, hammocks, sitting areas, and any other areas they may have that are destination spots in their backyard.

Our concerns center on how well people can physically engage the activities they enjoy in their yards. Can they get to the activity area by walking or using an assistive device? Is the pathway that connects their home to the particular area they want to visit or use (or that a visitor might want to use) one that is solid, hard-surface, relatively smooth, wide, and uninterrupted (continuous)? Is it essentially level or gently sloped so that no steps are involved? Are there areas of open grass that must be crossed to get to an activity center?

Since it's likely been a few months since people last used their outdoor spaces, changes may may have occurred in how they will relate to their space, such as a decrease in their vision, mobility, reach, range of motion, or ability to some of the physical work they have been accustomed to doing. Their yard may present challenges for them that they don't recall as being an issue in the past.

We may need to help people acclimate to their space again and install pathways, eliminate steps, or otherwise make their outdoor spaces more friendly, convenient, safe, and accessible for them. Those areas are important for them, but people must be able to feel secure in using them. Their outdoor areas are going to be prominent aspects of their lives for much of the rest of the year.


Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging In Place Specialist - Master Instructor and best-selling author of aging in place books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.