Easy access to outdoor areas boosts mood

Tuesday, 25th July, 2017

OUTDOOR ACCESS: Researchers find that restricting access to outside spaces increases the risk of depression in people in care homes.

NEW research says not having easy access to gardens and outdoor spaces increases the risk of depression for residents of aged care homes.

Researchers from the University of Warwick in the UK examined the design of care homes and the depressive symptoms of residents.

The researchers assessed the physical environment of 50 care homes in Coventry, Warwickshire and north-east London, and looked for any association with the depressive symptoms of 510 residents. They also carried out interviews with some residents.

The researchers were surprised to find that the overall physical environments of the homes were not associated with depressive symptoms, and the resident interviews supported this.

"Residents expressed little interest in the decor of the care homes and appreciated features of the care home that increased opportunity for social interaction and promoted independence and function," said Dr Rebecca Cain from the University of Warwick.
Even having good quality outdoor space didn't appear to have an impact, however access to the space did.

Residents interviewed reported that access to outdoor space was restricted in many ways - locked doors, uneven footpaths, steep steps and needing permission or assistance to go outside.

"Residents may appear to have access to outdoor space but are prevented from using the outdoor space independently because of poor physical or cognitive function, or need the permission of staff to use the outdoors... reasons that may negatively affect residents' perception of autonomy and consequently their mood," said lead author Dr Rachel Potter.

"The findings of the study suggest that interventions that increase access to outdoor spaces could positively affect depressive symptoms in older people."

There has been a growing interest in the role of the physical environment on health.

A recent study found that hospital patients in rooms with windows looking out over a natural scene had shorter hospital stays, while another study in the Netherlands found that brighter light reduced depressive symptoms in residents in assisted living facilities.

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