Helping Nursing Home Residents Make Use of Outdoor Space

Dale Carter, of Transition Aging Parents, sent me the following question after reading my last post about caregiving for family members in nursing homes.

“Eleanor, when I went to check in to volunteer today at our local nursing home, I was chatting with a lady and she said the thing she missed most was not being able to get outside in the beautiful springtime. She was in a wheelchair. How do you respond when you hear that? Any suggestions on something the nursing home or a volunteer could do?”

As someone who plans to spend the spring, summer, and fall of my nursing home years out on the patio, it saddens me to see how difficult it is for many nursing home residents to get outside.  Sometimes people tell me they haven’t been out for months, and occasionally years, or only for clinic appointments.  I have several suggestions to help nursing home residents get some fresh air.
  • If getting outside is important to you, pick a nursing home with accessible outdoor space. Be aware that some nursing homes limit the times of year the patio can be used.
  • Try to get a room on the ground floor of the building, so it’s easier to get outside.
  • Attend activities such as barbecues and outdoor games provided by the recreation department.
  • If you’re unable to wheel your own chair, encourage family members to go with you to the patio, or off-campus, if there’s no patio, even if it’s just wheeling around the block.
  • Enlist a volunteer to bring you outside, either through the volunteer directly, the volunteer coordinator, the social worker, or another advocate.
  • Recruit staff members to take you out.  If you’re able to stay outside by yourself, or with another resident, ask one staff member to bring you out, and another to pick you up at a certain time, such as before lunch.  Try to make it convenient for their work schedule.
  • If you can’t wheel your chair, but have private funds, and the nursing home permits it, buy an electric wheelchair and get out there on your own.
  • If there are nursing home-wide difficulties accessing outdoor space, this can be addressed in Resident Council Meetings or with the nursing home administration. 

4 thoughts on “Helping Nursing Home Residents Make Use of Outdoor Space”

  1. Thanks for answering my question. I just couldn’t imagine seeing the beautiful out-of-doors and not being able to get out there. You gave me some good ideas to discuss with the Director next week.
    Many thanks!

  2. My pleasure, Dale. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to provide a deeper discussion of the issue.

    If readers have further suggestions, I hope they’ll add their comments to the blog.


  3. I would recommend using the Activity Professional to help with this. Like nurses, activity pros must write care plans. They must assess and figure out ways to accommodate residents preferred activities.

    If you make it abundantly clear being outside for some time in the warmer weather (and even in the cold weather) and you push this as YOUR preferred-over-all-other activities, the activity dept will have to provide this.

    A local nursing home in my area decided to ask it’s management team to volunteer time for this very thing. They were expected to bring residents out side for a walk, or to sit under a tree or in the sun- for half hour periods throughout the day. Hands on caregivers, the aides and nurses, simply didn’t have reliable time to devote to this. Management schedules were and are much more flexible.

    The team also went out of it’s way to recruit volunteers to help with all activities- but outside time was a priority. School classes picked this up and provided hours of assistance, free of charge. Community service groups- those people who need to give back as part of a “court order” also picked up some time doing this. Church groups probably did the most to help with this effort, coming twice a week for four hours.

    A nursing home can host cook outs once or twice a week. The kitchen staff can prepare a meal outside on a grille, and residents can be seated at picnic tables or other tables…inside and out.

    All of this really depends upon the management’s willingness to truly accommodate residents. If it’s there, it will be obvious.

  4. Great suggestions, Patti. Thanks for posting them.

    Interesting to hear of a nursing home where management took on the role of bringing residents outside, showing their philosophy of care really does start from the top. I used to work in a psychiatric hospital where the chief psychiatrist spent several months on each unit, setting up systems and modeling his approach. If the phone rang while he was at the nurses’ station, he answered it, and he was frequently the typist during the psychiatric version of a care plan meeting. Those actions were among the most important steps he took toward team-building and they transformed the units.

    I’ll also echo your emphasis on volunteers, who make a huge difference in the lives of the residents.



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