Enabling Outdoor Spaces in Elderly Residential and Dementia Care

Enabling Outdoor Spaces in Elderly Residential and Dementia Care

Studies have shown that spending time outside leaves people feeling happier and more relaxed, but for many people living in residential, nursing and dementia care homes across the UK, access to gardens and outdoor areas isn’t always easy, practical or safe. This can leave residents feeling bored, isolated and depressed all things that negatively impact their health and make caring for them more challenging. At Edison & Day® we’ve unpacked the challenges and advantages of enabling outdoor spaces in elderly residential and dementia care homes; creating enjoyable outdoor spaces for care home residents to help you enhance the physical and mental wellbeing of your residents, staff and visitors.

Therapeutic Benefits of Outdoor Spaces

It goes without saying that the emotional and psychological benefits of a safe, attractive and carefully planned outdoor area are well documented for people of all ages – but especially for aged and dementia care residents. For the elderly, outdoor spaces provide sensory stimulation, remedying boredom, give residents an “escape” (actual or visual) from the monotony of everyday life and enable them to maintain an active lifestyle.

Even a short time spent outdoors can lower blood pressure, improve vitamin D absorption, improve stability and balance and help with better sleep patterns. Known as “the sunshine vitamin”, Vitamin D is a crucial ingredient for overall health, protects against inflammation, helps muscles, improves brain function, lowers high blood pressure and may even protect against cancer. Whilst it’s been clear for a long time, the importance of access to fresh clean air has been highlighted massively in a post Covid world.

A well-planned garden can also provide multiple areas for socialisation, alongside personal space for reflection and privacy. Incorporating both shared and private spaces is important, as residents have different life interests and needs.

Designing Outdoor Spaces for Care Homes

It is widely recognised that a building and an environment can have a significant effect on a person with dementia and with an estimated 850000 people in the UK living with dementia, it’s important that elderly and dementia care facilities are designed with these specific needs in mind.

There are five key design factors that need to be considered when designing outdoor spaces for elderly and dementia care:

  • Entrances and Exits
  • Plant Selection
  • Pathways
  • Seating
  • Access to facilities


Entrances and Exits

Perhaps the most important factor to consider when designing outdoor spaces for the elderly, it’s important that entrances and exits to outdoor spaces are both easy to access and encourage residents to get outside. A simple door can be enough of a barrier to stop elderly residents going outside. If a door is hard to open, hidden away or locked, residents will simply stay inside. It’s important that doors to outdoor spaces are open and inviting. Glass doors or doors with windows give residents a view of the outdoors, inviting them to step outside and enjoy the space for themselves. Another way to encourage residents to step outside is to create indoor/outdoor spaces. Living spaces can include a few artificial plants to bring the outdoors inside, and then open to outdoor decks, with furniture & plants specifically chosen to withstand the elements whilst meeting comfort and safety needs. A covered decking/patio area also eases residents into the outdoors, giving their eyes time to adjust to the changing light.

Choosing Plants


Whilst leafy ferns and trailing vines are eye catching and appealing, they can actually become hazardous for elderly residents.

Known as “visual cliffing” in design, plants that create patterned shadows on the ground that can confuse and disorient residents. Seniors react to changes in paving colour and flooring materials or shadows from plants as if they were a change in depth. This may lead to falls, fear and discomfort – so it’s important that plants and trellises/arbors like this are avoided.

Choose a variety of trees, shrubs and flowers and place them where they can be touched, smelled and seen. Colours should be bold and bright as ageing eyes can see highly saturated colours (oranges, reds and yellows) more than blues, purples and greens. Plants can also be used to stimulate memory, with traditional shrubs like roses, magnolias and hydrangeas often bringing deep rooted memories to mind.


To visually impaired residents, changes in paving colours and flooring materials can become a trip hazard, even if the ground is level, so it’s important that pathways are designed to ensure that the resident feels safe in the area.

Non-glare paving surfaces should be used as ageing eyes have trouble with glare and pathways should be level and easily accessible. Create interesting places to walk with clearly defined walking loops, dotted with destination points such as water fountains or gazebos where residents can stop and rest.

Pathways should also include edges or railings to ensure safety for wheelchair users or individuals with impaired sight. When designing spaces for residents with Alzheimer’s disease, however, it is important that entrance and exit points are always visible, wherever that resident is in the garden. This stops residents from feeling lost or confused when they’re not sure what route to take or how to get back.



As residents spend time in the outdoors, it is relaxing to rest at a bench on the pathway with a fellow resident, or others may prefer to sit alone in a quiet spot. Open sitting areas also provide a place to sit and socialise with others and should have a mix of lounge and chair styles to encourage social engagement.

Seating should be carefully selected to ensure the residents’ safety is maintained while outdoors. In addition to comfort and durability, the furniture should have suitable ergonomics for elderly persons. Timber, resin, or wicker furniture are preferred over metal & glass furniture as they do not absorb the heat in direct sunlight which presents a risk of burning residents. Throw in a few outdoor cushions to further increase comfort and add a splash of colour!

Access to facilities

One of the most overlooked and greatest barriers to residents using outdoor areas is access to facilities. For those resident’s who have issues with incontinence, the lack of access to toilet facilities quickly and easily when outdoors will often mean that they will simply not use it.

Whilst more difficult for existing homes to install (yet not impossible), all new build homes should be built with outdoor toilet facilities that are easy to find and easy to access.


For more information on how Edison & Day can help to transform your garden and outdoor areas, get in touch with [email protected]