“Helping People Age In Place Safely In Their Yards This Summer”

Now that the month of May is nearly over and June is upon us, as schools have dismissed classes for the summer, and as people think of spending more time outside, our focus turns to those outdoors areas around people’s homes for safety, access, and visitability.

People may have pools, spas, swim spas, or hot tubs that they will be using, firepits, barbecuing areas, areas for playing badminton or volleyball, or just a quiet shady area to sit and read. take a nap,  or watch the sunset.

As so often is the case, safety is our main concern. We want people to be able to walk about outside their homes as easily as they do inside. Often, travel the outside is going to be easier than it is inside because there are no confining walls lining hallways and other access points. Footing is important as well, and the openness can be a big plus for us in the creation of aging in place designs outside the home.

As we talk about access and safety outside the home, our main concern is the immediate yard (front, sides, and rear) surrounding the dwelling that sits on it. Of course, the areas away from the home where someone might walk are important to us from a safety and access point as well, but we have less control over how those are designed and maintained. We can observe current conditions in someone’s yard and make recommendations as well as design solutions to create a much safer environment.

Just as we would in looking at the inside of the home, we would begin our analysis of the exterior of the client’s property with a survey or assessment of what exists and make our suggestions for improving it. Rare is the home that is not going to require any adjustments. Should we find such a home, we can help the client move forward by creating more walkways, yard furniture, or accent areas rather than focusing on making the area safe.

One our chief concerns is going to be walkways – for the residents of the home we are looking at, and their neighbors, friends, or guests that are going to be calling upon them this summer. So often we see sidewalks or pathways that are designed for people with excellent balance and no mobility challenges. They may be loose rock or gravel, mulch, or stones that don’t connect to each other. There may be grassy strips between the stones (patio stones, flagstones, or concrete pads), loose materials, or other types of rock between them. Rolling a walker or wheelchair along this route would be difficult to impossible.

Sometimes, there is no hard surface pathway at all. There might be a firepit or cooking area, perhaps a sitting area or hammock, or a pool area of some type that is located away from the house but not connected by any hard surface walkway – often no pathway at all but just grass. A person with no mobility, balance, or vision challenges might be able to walk to the distant yard feature across the grass, but this certainly is not a visitable design that accommodates neighbors, guests, or family members who don’t live at this address full-time. As the residents of the home age, they may face challenges in using their property to its fullest also.

A hard-surface, continuous pathway connecting the back or side door of the home with all locations (cooking area, clothesline, firepit, water feature, pool area, outdoor shower, storm shelter, detached garage, or alleyway) is a must. So many homes are deficient in providing this basic feature.

Even when there is a walkway of some sort, it often is too narrow to accommodate everyone who needs to use it. So, in addition to making sure that it is a continuous hard surface, we need to create one that is wide enough to provide safe use and two-way traffic – preferably at least four feet wide.

Outdoor lighting is recommended after the footing is corrected so that people can see where they are going and can do so safely without encountering any object that may be near where they are walking. There are many types of fixtures and lighting styles that can be used, but something involving LED bulbs that are light activated (to come on at dusk or when it is very cloudy) or motion sensitive (to come on when someone is present in that area) are recommended.


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