A chance observation of an elderly woman gazing wistfully out
the window of a nursing home has blossomed into a whole new
avenue of research for a Texas A&M University architect,
leading to a soon-to-be-released book on the subject.
"As part of my research focus on designing healthcare facilities,
I spend a lot of time in long-term care residences like nursing
homes and assisted living complexes," says Susan Rodiek,
who is associate director of the Center for Health Systems & Design
(CHSD), a joint research center of the College of Architecture
and the Texas A&M System Health Science Center. "After
noticing that people tended to congregate near outside doorways
or to sit looking out windows, I decided to find out why they
were doing so and whether they wanted more opportunities to go
Rodiek's curiosity led to conducting focus groups and photo-surveys
with residents at 14 facilities randomly selected from a 12-county
"I found that most people equated being able to go outdoors
with a higher quality of life," she notes. "And surprisingly,
those who needed the highest level of care because they were
confined to wheelchairs or otherwise had difficulty walking told
me 'we need to go outside more than anyone else'."
Participants in Rodiek's study indicated that their use of their
residence's outdoor facilities depended on how easy those facilities
were for them to access, the aesthetic appeal of the outdoor
environment, and specific features such as shade, places to sit,
plants and scenic views. She found that their background produced
no significant differences in opinions voiced by residents; former
urban and rural dwellers seemed to feel much the same.
Being able to go outdoors is not just about raising the spirits
of the elderly. But; other research has shown that people's physical
health improves when they can go outdoors, Rodiek notes.
"The health benefits seem to result from greater physical
activity and from access to bright light," she says. "The
benefits of Vitamin D from sunlight have been known for a long
exposure to bright outdoor light may also balance hormones and
improve mood. These effects may be related to the fact that outdoor
light can be at least 10 times brighter than indoor light and
that outdoor light is full-spectrum."
Rodiek has published studies on these topics, and several other
researchers are also working in this area. The publisher of Journal
of Housing for the Elderly has had so many submissions on the
topic that Rodiek was invited to produce an edited book on it,
Role of the Outdoors in Residential Environments for Aging, to
be released by Haworth Press in May 2006.
"This work lets architects see what contribution they can
make to improving long-term care facilities," Rodiek says. "It
was somewhat of a surprise to find out how much the residents
were missing contact with nature, but now that we know this,
we can do something to help them get outdoors more."