Investigating walking environments in and around assisted living facilities: a facility visit study.
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OBJECTIVE: This study explores assisted living residents' walking behaviors, locations where residents prefer to walk, and walking environments in and around assisted living facilities. BACKGROUND: Regular walking is beneficial to older adults' physical and psychological health. Yet frail older residents in assisted living are usually too sedentary to achieve these benefits. The physical environment plays an important role in promoting physical activity. However, there is little research exploring this relationship in assisted living settings. METHODS: The researcher visited 34 assisted living facilities in a major Texas city. Methods included walk-through observation with the Assisted Living Facility Walking Environment Checklist, and interviews with administrators by open- and close-ended questions. The data from 26 facilities were analyzed using descriptive statistics (for quantitative data) and content analysis (for qualitative data). RESULTS: The results indicate that (a) residents were walking both indoors and outdoors for exercise or other purposes (e.g., going to destinations); (b) assisted living facility planning and design details-such as neighborhood sidewalk conditions, facility site selection, availability of seating, walking path configuration (e.g., looped/nonlooped path), amount of shading along the path, presence of handrails, existence of signage, etc.-may influence residents' walking behaviors; and (c) current assisted living facilities need improvement in all aspects to make their environments more walkable for residents. CONCLUSION: Findings of the study provide recommendations for assisted living facilities to improve the walkability of environments and to create environmental interventions to promote regular walking among their residents. This study also implies several directions for future research.
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