Speaking of older adults (see our last post about Environments for Aging), a good article – “Investigating Walking Environments in and Around Assisted Living Facilities: A Facility Visit Study” by Zhipeng Lu – was published in the Summer 2010 issue of Health Environments Research & Design Journal (HERD). I wish I could provide a web link for you to access the free article, but alas, it’s only available to buy. So I’ll summarize the author’s points here.
At issue are the dueling needs of elderly people: The need for safety and the need for exercise and social connection. Lu states that “falls are the most frequent cause of injury-related morbidity and mortality among community-dwelling older people.” Falling is a true risk and needs to be avoided. But as he (and others he cites) argue, exercise and social connection are both critical for maintaining physical and emotional health. Careful consideration of location/neighborhood, as well as design of indoor and outdoor pathways, can both reduce risks and enable elderly people to live active, healthy lives.
Lu first makes a case for the benefits of exercise – in this case, walking – for elderly people (people 65 or older), and asserts that “the physical environment plays a role in promoting physical activity.” Since walking is the most preferred form of exercise among elderly people, it makes good sense to see what types of settings best promote frequent and safe walking.” The design of walkable ALF environments has become more important because frail older people are increasingly averse to nursing homes and seek a higher quality of life and greater independent living in an ALF.” An assisted living facility, or ALF, as defined by the Assisted Living Federation of America is “a long-term care option that combines housing, supportive services, and healthcare for mentally and physically frail individuals.”