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Landscape Design for the Elderly: A Golden Plan for Aging in Place

Posted On: September 27,2018 By: Mary Dresser, RLA ALSA

portrait of a loving elderly couple outdoorsEver-improving advances in health care are allowing people to live longer than ever before. That means we have an unprecedented rate of aging Americans. In fact, according to Pew Research, 10,000 people retire every day.

This phenomenon has demanded new solutions for “aging in place.” Homeowners want a space that they can stay in for the long-haul. They don’t want to have to move down the line because their home or yard wasn’t aging-friendly.

Similarly, many homeowners are also looking for solutions for aging family members. For some, that has meant incorporating “in-law” quarters as part of their home. Research from the AARP has noted that 24 percent of baby boomers anticipate their parents or in-laws will move in with them at some point in the near future.

Homeowners who are looking to age in place not only want their home, but also their outdoor space, to be safe, comfortable, and conducive to aging.

If you’re someone that is looking for landscaping ideas for the elderly—whether it be for you and your spouse in the future or perhaps needs that you have right now for yourself or a family member—don’t worry. There are solutions out there that will ensure age isn’t a problem when it comes to enjoying (and feeling safe) in your yard.


Low Maintenance Landscaping for the Elderly

The last thing that you want as you age is a landscape that requires a ton of work. Even though you may have it professionally maintained, you want a landscape that is easily kept looking its best. Hiring a landscape company who can incorporate low maintenance landscape ideas will help achieve that goal.low maintenance plants and shrubs around patio

This includes practices such as utilizing low-maintenance landscape plants that don’t require tons of trimming, are drought-tolerant, and are not prone to a lot of disease or pest problems. Hardy plants that would fit the bill include Sedge, Fountain Grass, Coneflowers, Creeping Juniper, Burning Bush, and Spirea to name just some. An experienced landscape designer in Lancaster, Reading, York, or Hershey, PA will be able to suggest a host of others.

Choosing high-quality materials is another way to keep your landscape low maintenance. For example, choosing composite instead of pressure-treated wood for your decks and structures will mean they don’t need to be regularly maintained over the years.

composite deck

The same principle applies when it comes to choosing a patio material. Natural stone or high-quality pavers are going to last a lot longer and with minimal maintenance as compared to concrete. Investing in your property now will mean fewer headaches and maintenance in the future.


Lighting for Safety and Security

Ensuring that your property is well-lit with landscape lighting is another way to feel confident that it will remain safe and secure even as you age—or when you have elderly family or friends visit or stay. A professional landscaper should pay particular attention to areas of your property that pose trip and fall hazards—namely, anywhere that you have steps. But in general, you want to make sure that your entire outdoor living area is well-lit so that you can fully (and safely) enjoy it after the sun goes down.patio and walkway with landscape lighting

You might even want to consider sensor lighting. Motion sensor-based lighting can prevent accidents by lighting up areas as you move about the property.   

Installing Ramps or Minimizing Steps

A huge consideration in a landscape design for elderly homeowners is minimizing (or potentially eliminating) the number of steps necessary to get from point A to point B. When it comes to planning a landscape that is aging-friendly, you must think about all areas of your property—the front, back and, even the sides. If these areas have a lot of steps, you might be looking for a different solution.

patio steps and railing

A ramp may be one possible answer. You might also consider whether some of these areas can be re-graded and terraced in order to eliminate steps. The landscape design might be able to make a hilly area more gradual so that it is traversable with walkways. Regardless of whether you have ramps, gradually sloping walkways, or steps, you may also want to consider handrails on both sides.  

The reduction of steps is a vital landscape change as a limited range of motion is common with aging. The more steps you have around your property, the more you create a risk of accidents. According to the CDC, falls are the leading cause of injury and death in older adults.


Creating a Separate Area for Aging In-Laws or Parents

If you plan to add (or already have) an in-law suite to your home for aging parents, then you might also want to think about a separate landscape design for them.

Oftentimes, in-law suites are large additions, attached to the existing home but with its own entrance/exit to the outdoors. Creating a private outdoor space will give the in-law suite residents privacy and some freedom.


Sometimes, a detached home is even built on the same property to be an aging parents’ residents, again behooving the importance of a separated landscaped area.

Adding Shade

A landscape design for elderly homeowners should also include lots of shade. We’ve found that retired homeowners love spending a lot of time outside. But the last thing they want to do is sit and bake in the sun all day. Think about adding shade with strategically placed shade trees, or possibly a pergola or pavilion. This will provide a peaceful place of respite in the yard.patio with pavllion and trees


Incorporating Ample Seating Areas

Having plenty of space to sit down is another key consideration of an aging-friendly landscape design. It may be a social space with ample seating for card parties. It might also be important to have lots of seating space to accommodate large families coming over to visit. If this is the case, the design might also include plenty of spots that the kids will love while they’re visiting.


Or, perhaps there won’t be a lot of visitors at all and there just needs to be plenty of seating around the property for the aging homeowners. We have aging clients who live alone but absolutely love spending time outside so we’ve added benches in several areas of their property to ensure they’re comfortable. It’s all about customization and finding the solution that is best for you.


Enjoying Bird and Animal Watching

We’ve also had a number of clients who really enjoy bird watching and we’ve incorporated some feeder areas into the landscape. One of these homeowners wanted to be sure she could view the birds from inside, as well, which meant that strategic placement of those feeding areas was key.

winterberry holly

There are also many varieties of plants that will attract wildlife including birds and butterflies. If wildlife watching is important to you, then we can incorporate the right plants to encourage visits from nearby creatures.


Vegetable Growing or Gardening

If flower and/or vegetable gardening are valued pastimes, then we can incorporate areas to enjoy these hobbies into a design as well. Of course, getting down on the ground can be a bit more challenging with age which is why these can be designed as raised areas that would make it easy to work without a lot of bending over.

For those who are incredibly passionate about tending to plant material, you might even consider your own custom potting shed on the property. This is an area where you can get your seedlings started as well as store all of your gardening equipment.


While you may just think of it as something you enjoy, studies also demonstrate that participating in gardening activities as one ages can help promote better mental and physical health. It’s a great activity to keep your mind and body healthy.


Incorporating Special Plants

When landscaping for the elderly, we often find that there are certain plants which bring back memories. In fact, we’ve had more than one client tell us that even the fragrance of certain plants was linked to fond memories of their past. The nice thing about working with a landscape designer is that it opens up a wider range of plant material possibilities. If there are plants that are special to you, they can be incorporated into the design.



Eliminating Lawn Obstacles

Finally, your landscape design should also take into consideration any obstacles that might make your property dangerous in some way. For instance, removing trees with surface roots which create tripping hazards is one way to reduce risk on your property. If you don’t want to remove a tree, you might consider an extended mulch ring to properly cover those sticking up roots or discourage people from walking over them.


In general, your landscape designer should be thinking about how easy your design is to navigate. There should be ample space to move around without creating any sort of unnecessary risks.


Choosing a Landscaping Company that “Gets It”

These are just some of the vast number of considerations that should be taken into account when landscaping for the elderly. There are so many factors to consider and it’s all dependent upon your exact needs as well as the space that you have. That’s why a custom solution is critical.

Picture of happy elder marriage in parkOf course, finding a company that truly offers custom designs is not exactly an easy feat. Typical landscaping companies in Lancaster, York, Reading, and Hershey, PA are a dime a dozen and you can easily find one that will put together an average, cookie-cutter design.

But what you want is a landscape designer or Registered Landscape Architect that thinks outside of the box. You want to work with a company who is going to think about all of these little details—and more. In other words, you want a landscape contractor that “gets it.”

By finding a landscape company that has the experience, the skill, and the ideas to bring together a landscape design where you can safely and comfortably age, you can feel confident knowing that you’ll get the space you want and need. The last thing that you want is to wind up with an average landscape that will need changes down the road.

If you’d like to start a conversation about creating a landscape that will allow you or a family member to age in place at your Reading, Lancaster, York, or Hershey, PA home, contact us for a free consultation or give us a call at (717) 276-9447.

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Image Sources:  winterberry holly

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Mary Dresser, RLA ALSA

Written by Mary Dresser, RLA ALSA

Mary Hatch Dresser is a Registered Landscape Architect with a Bachelor’s degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Georgia School of Environmental Design. Mary has designed landscapes for 32 years and joined ETW exclusively in 2009. Mary is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA); and also serves on the Shade Tree Committee in Strasburg Borough where she resides. Mary prides herself in carefully listening to her clients to professionally meld their ideas and personal criteria with sound, experienced design practice.

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