By Anna Hazard
While they may not come to mind as readily as their indoor equivalents, exterior structures such as decks, patios, porches, and balconies should also be tweaked so that they better fit the needs of seniors with aging-in-place in mind. Exterior spaces can be made into accommodating environments where a senior can safely enjoy a bit of fresh air or outdoor viewing without having to venture into the landscaping itself.
When it comes to decks, patios, porches and balconies the ultimate goal is to have an area that can be reached and navigated safely & easily while remaining relatively low maintenance. These types of structures are generally connected directly to the interior of the house through an entrance way and often include another exit out unto the yard, driveway, or exterior landscaping of the area.
The structure of the deck, patio, porch, or balcony itself is recommended to be composed of either masonry or composite deck materials which are generally easy-to-maintain and often simply require washing with a hose in order to properly clean them. Wood should be avoided in both the deck structure itself and in exterior decorations as it requires ongoing staining, sealing, and painting to keep up its appearance. For ground level patios, natural stone or high quality pavers are recommended over concrete due to their greater sturdiness and minimal maintenance requirements.
Ideally the deck should be on the same level as the threshold into the main interior of the house or at most should be no more than half an inch below the interior floor level. Raised thresholds should be avoided due to the tripping hazards they pose as well as potential mobility problems for those using wheelchairs, walkers, or other aids.
Entrances, Exits, & Thresholds
Gently sloping ramps are recommended over the presence of any steps. This would include both the entrance back into the house (if it's not level with the main portion of the deck) as well as any exits down to the ground level & yard. Any ramps or steps should have handrails placed on both sides for further safety. Areas where there are any changes in the height or level of the floor should also be highlighted in bright contrasting colors and should include slip resistant flooring.
Particularly steep or long stairways down to the yard area can be replaced with outdoor stair lifts (such as vertical platform or porch lifts). Otherwise a senior may need to navigate to another entrance that is more easily traversable (such as using the low level front door to walk around to the back yard instead of using the steep back exit from the back patio directly into the yard).
Doors and gates should have wide level handles for easier use by arthritic hands. Furthermore, all doors and thresholds should be wide enough to accommodate a passing wheelchair, mobility scooter, or walker. This spacing should be further reflected in wide aisles and open areas for easy maneuvering while out on the decks, patios, porches, or balconies. These walkway areas should be further cleared of any potential tripping hazards (such as low potted plants or other outdoor decor).
Outdoor Lighting & Shade
The entire deck area should be kept well lit when in use either day or night with special attention paid to the walkways, entryways, and any areas with floor level changes. Suggested light fixtures include post mounted lights for general wide area lighting, wall mounted fixtures for the entrance to the house, and low voltage path lights to outline the general area of the deck within the yard as well as the exit to the ground level, and any paths leading to the area.
In counterpoint, sufficient shade should also be provided on the deck during daylight hours. This is particularly necessary for seniors who may have sun or heat related health conditions or may be taking medicines that contraindicate direct extended exposure to heat or sunlight). Shade along certain areas of the outdoor deck can be provided through the installation of awning, pergola, or temporary parasols, canopies, or outdoor umbrellas. Good locations for such installations include areas containing tables meant for dining as well as other sit-down areas. Fans, portable air conditioners, or other sources of cooling should be installed in the same areas during the warmer months.
Decorations & Furnishings
All usable surfaces should be easily accessible on the deck. This would include having planters in strategic locations which can be easily reached for watering, chairs should be at a height where they can be climbed into and out of without difficulty, as well as bars and tables that are not be too high from the ground level that one must stretch to access them. An age friendly design will also incorporate many places where one can sit down and rest at a moment's notice. Flowers, bird & butterfly feeders, or other sensory items can be placed near these resting spots to offer a further source of recreation.
In general lightweight furniture that can be easily transported short distances or moved around to a suitable configuration (in case one needs to make room for an attending wheelchair or other mobility aids) is recommended. These would include equipment made from aluminum, wicker, or plastic intended for outdoor use. While wood and wrought iron are popular outdoor materials, they generally require more maintenance than their lower cost equivalents. Furniture and decorations should be low maintenance which would include being waterproof, able to withstand sun & other weather exposure, as well as being stain, mold, and mildew resistant.
View the Rest of the Series
Part 1 - Introduction
Part 2 - Exterior
Part 3 - Landscaping & Gardens
Part 4 - Patio, Porch, & Deck
Part 5 - Garage & Carports
Part 6 - Entrances, Exits, & Thresholds
Part 7 - Exterior Steps & Ramps
Part 8 - Threshold Lighting & Windows
Part 9 - Interior Doors & Halls
Part 10 - Interior Steps & Staircases
Part 11 - Interior Stairlifts
Part 12 - Interior Elevators
Part 13 - Living Room
Part 14 - Kitchen