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 Improving Outdoor Areas Raises Occupancy Levels, Researchers Find

 

 

When residents’ satisfaction about their communities’ outdoor areas increased, their willingness to refer others to live in the community also increased, resulting in more word-of-mouth referrals that increased occupancy and lowered marketing costs for providers, researchers found.
 
The study’s results were published in the Winter 2013 Health Environments Research & Design Journal.
 
Researchers conducted an assisted living survey at 68 communities in three regions of the United States to assess the relationship between satisfaction with outdoor spaces, time spent outdoors, and resulting improvements in mood. Using data from the survey, a financial analysis was developed to estimate potential benefits from improved outdoor areas that contribute to increased occupancy and decreased marketing costs associated with increased word-of-mouth referral.
 
In communities with successful outdoor areas, the authors wrote, “residents typically expressed satisfaction with several features. Interestingly, the same features that were described as unsatisfactory at some communities were reported as highly satisfactory at communities where they apparently had been designed with the needs and preferences of residents in mind.”
 
The features included attention to adequate shade, doorways, walkways, space, nature elements, and seating.
 
“This finding emphasizes the importance of the location, layout, and detailed design of these features,” the authors wrote. “Seating, walkways, shade, and doorways appear prominently in comments showing satisfaction with outdoor areas; in addition, nature elements, social spaces, adequate space, and freedom of movement also appear to be important.”
 
Satisfaction ratings of outdoor areas ranged from 29 percent to 96 percent. Researchers discovered that the higher the satisfaction rating, the more time the resident spent outdoors. In some cases satisfied residents were spending 90 more minutes a week outside than residents who were less satisfied. Previous research had found that residents spending more time outdoors improved their psychological well-being by 12 percent. The greater overall satisfaction leads to 8 percent more residents willing to refer potential residents to their community, the authors wrote.
 
“Word-of-mouth referrals by current residents are a major factor in resident recruitment; improving outdoor areas leads to an estimated 4 percent increase in new residents, resulting in over $170,000 of increased revenue per year for a community of 100 residents,” wrote the authors.
 
“Fortunately, it is not necessarily difficult or expensive to improve existing outdoor areas, or to design and construct new outdoor areas that support residents’ needs,” they wrote. “Problems with outdoor space often stem from simple issues that could be avoided by proper planning, or could be remedied fairly inexpensively after the fact.”
 
Researchers estimated an investment of $5,000 per community in existing annual maintenance budgets would make it possible to make some changes that would improve the residents’ quality of life. For example, a door that is hard to open may only need to be adjusted so it doesn’t require as much pressure to open. Or providers could replace the door’s high threshold with one that is flatter, making it easier for residents with wheelchairs to roll over it. Shade above seating areas can be provided with inexpensive shade structures such as awnings, trees, or an arbor with vines growing over it.
 
Adjusting a doorway closing mechanism could cost $100 or less, or an automatic door opener could be installed for $1,000 to $4,000, depending on the type. Walkway sections that had shifted could be repaired or replaced for $500 to $2,000, depending on the extent of the damage.
 
Outdoor Evaluation Tool
Researchers developed a user-friendly survey tool that providers can use to assess their community’s outdoor areas. This tool will identify which improvements are more likely to increase resident satisfaction. Visit AccessToNature.org/resources.html, look for “Seniors’ Outdoor Survey.”
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