Extending the time lived autonomously for older adults and seniors


I’ve been thinking about ageing and healthy aging a lot during recent years. There have been many reasons both personal and global. After seeing my mother defeating cancer twice within a short period of time I started thinking about the human lifestyle and fundamental core human needs. In addition, I was writing my Master’s thesis on How well-designed outdoor space could support the older adults and seniors to maintain autonomy in their life as long as possible in order to live fulfilling life. (Just for clarification: older adult – 50 + years, senior 70 + years)


The global trends in our society are ageing and longer life expectancy. An ageing society is a society in which the older adults and seniors compare to other age groups form a significant proportion of the society. Longer life expectancy means that people live longer than previous generations. The reasons for ageing are the development of medical system, decline in the death rate of children (UN 2019: 16; WHO 2015: 48) and improvement of socioeconomic conditions (WHO 2015: 33-35). But there is a concern with longer life expectancy – World Health Organization has found (2015) that people live longer but the quality of life is decreasing on last third of the lifespan because of poor health (WHO 2015: 49). Of course, it is not correct to make conclusions for all older adult and seniors in this way. In fact, there is a huge difference among older adult and seniors regarding their health, autonomy and participation. So, it is crucial to include those differences when creating policies and practices in order to prevent discrimination (WHO 2002: 4). It is stated in the United Nations Principles for Older Persons (resolution no 46/91) that it is the right of older adult and seniors to preserve autonomy and independence in their life as long as possible and their living environment, health and social services has to support physical, mental and emotional well-being and prevent or delay the onset of illness (UN 1991: 2). WHO Active Ageing. A Policy Framework (2002) proposes that the decision maker can prevent the decline in health and wellbeing by promoting social interactions among older adults and elderly, voluntary work and participation which increases the sense of belonging and strengthens the community (WHO 2002: 26).

Landscape architecture is going to save the World

I truly believe landscape architecture can address and solve many of these issues in order to support the healthy aging of people. The main aspects are promoting social activity and participation, promoting physical activity and mobility, promoting mental health. Of course, these are all dependent from one another and separations of these is artificial.

Promoting social activity and participation. Outdoor space can be „the source“, this is the place for all possibilities. Outdoor space can offer place for gathering, getting together and doing things together. It could be a place for play, work, leisure and much more. There is no limits for possibilities. It could be a (senior) playground or a community garden where different generations meet and socialize.

Promoting mental health. It is a combination of different concepts: person-environment fit (Bonaiuto, Alves 2012), stress reduction (Ulrich et al. 1991), attention restauration (Kaplan 1995). The person-environmental fit involves interactions that compose people’s everyday life: environmental and social features that they are exposed, people’s activities, and it is dependent of place, time, gender and stage of life (and age) (Bonaiuto, Alves 2012: 278-279). Restauration can take place only when the environment has certain characteristics. An environment is restorative when it has certain extent (rich and coherent), it provides soft fascination and a sense of being away (there is possibility to reflect on life), and it is compatible with the needs of the user (Kaplan 1995: 172-173). Natural settings that consist plants and wildlife are providing all these characters. According to Rappe and Topo natural settings promote positive changes in the mood after spending time indoors and suffering a lack of stimuli; feeling anxious, bored and lack of motivation (Rappe, Topo 2008: 232). When a person is emerged into the natural setting, they are visually and emotionally stimulated then it changes their psychological state, fear and anxiousness is reduced and the level of stress in general is reduced (Ulrich et al. 1991: 224-225). Being in natural settings reduces agitation and anger (Hartig et al. 2003: 120); concentration and performance abilities increase and the mood is changing more positive (Van den Berg et al. 2003: 143).

Promoting physical activity and mobility. These aspects contains recreation but not only. It is important to address different aspects of physical activity. Older adults and elderly lose muscle strength in time and cognitive abilities and these are the most important aspects related to living independently. So in order to maintain those abilities it is crucial the the outdoor space provides possibilities to train coordination, balance and muscle strength. Also, it is important to empower the user of this area, because this increases motivation. There are many possibilities for empowerment, for example introducing inclusive design principals such as suitable benches for elderly (with back rests, arm rests and foot rests – easy to stand up and makes a person feel they can do it!), enough benches on the side of walking path (motivates a user to walk from one bench to the next one and also provides security that there is an opportunity to rest), familiar objects on the walking path (creates a sense of security and belief that they can do it because they are familiar worth the environment).

Certainly, this is interdisciplinary approach but landscape architecture could be the leading sector driving the change. It is needed to change the outdoor space to be more supportive for older adults and elderly to support the ageing process and their autonomy.

Full text of this Master’s thesis is available here.



  1. Active Ageing. A Policy Framework. (2002). World Health Organization.
  2. Bonaiuto, M., Alves, S. (2012). Residential Places and Neighborhoods: Toward Healthy Life, Social Integration, and Reputable Residence.The Oxford Handbook of Environmental and Conservation Psychology./Ed. Clayton, S., D. Oxford Library of Psychology, pp. 275-306.
  3. Hartig, T., Evans, G., W., Jamner, L., D., Davis, D., S., Gärling, T. (2003). Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings. – Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol 23, pp. 109-123.
  4. Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Toward an integrative framework. – Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol 15, pp. 1689-182.
  5. Rappe, E., Topo, P. (2008). Contact with outdoor greenery can support competence among people with Dementia. – Journal of Housing for the Elderly. Vol 21, pp 229-248.
  6. Ulrich, R. S., Simons, R. F., Losito, B. D., Fiorito, E., Miles, M. A., Zelson, M. (1991). Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. – Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol 11, pp. 201-230.
  7. United Nations Principles for Older Persons. (1991). United Nations Principles for Older Persons adopted by General Assembly resolution 46/91 of 16th December 1991.
  8. Van den Berg, A., E., Koole, S., L., Van der Wulp, N., Y. (2003). Environmental preference and restoration: (How) are they related? – Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol 23, pp. 135-146.
  9. World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights. (2019). United Nations.
  10. World report on ageing and health. (2015). World Health Organization.
Extending the time lived autonomously for older adults and seniors
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