Encouraging a Senior with Limited Mobility to Get Outside


There are a number of mental and physical hurdles that prevent seniors from getting outside. Depending on a loved one’s abilities, even a short excursion can take a great deal of energy. If you are caring for someone with mobility issues, the simple act of going outdoors can be a daunting one. Nevertheless, breathing a little fresh air and changing up one’s surroundings can do more than help diminish boredom and complacency. Studies show that people who get outside on a daily basis are less likely to have a wide variety of health problems, like chronic pain or sleep disorders, and are more likely to remain active than those who stay indoors.

Tips for Getting a Senior Outside

If your loved one is resistant to the idea of going outside, start small and be gentle with your encouragement. There are plenty of ways for seniors to enjoy time outdoors without having to travel far or overexert themselves. Use these ideas to help a loved one restore their desire for fresh air and possibly ease into regular outings.

  • Suggest that they sit by an open window for a few minutes in the mornings or evenings to read the newspaper or enjoy a cup of tea. The feeling of fresh air on their face may inspire them to spend more time outside.
  • If your loved one’s home has a covered patio or porch or a fenced in back yard, get them started on spending time out there. They may feel more comfortable if they’re able to “get out” without the watchful eyes of neighbors or strangers.
  • Set up a bird feeder within view from a window or a porch so they can do some bird watching. If it’s a hit, you can enlist their help with keeping the feeder full and suggest other locations, like a nearby park, to catch glimpses of other species.
  • Consider planting some flowers or a small garden. Certain plants can attract butterflies, and new seedlings are exciting to watch as they grow and change each day. The senior won’t have to go far to get in touch with nature and admire the blooms. This renewed interest can segue into a trip to the local garden center for new plants or an outing to a nearby botanical garden.
  • Even a short jaunt to the mailbox each day will provide a few minutes of fresh air. This small addition to a senior’s routine can help them feel useful and improve their coordination, strength and stamina.
  • Get creative and find ways to incorporate their favorite indoor hobbies and activities with the outdoors. For example, if they enjoy art or crafts, set up their supplies near an open window or on the porch. If they have always loved listening to music, find outdoor concerts or performances in their area. If family is important to them, invite their grandchildren over to play outside or host a casual backyard picnic or barbecue.

Pick the Right Equipment

Safely navigating inside and outside the home is a crucial factor to consider, since the fear of falling can be a powerful deterrent to getting around. Even if a senior would enjoy leaving the house, they may not feel that all of the effort and preparation is worth the hassle. It is common for embarrassment and frustration to surface when going out requires the assistance of another person or a mobility aid, such as a cane or rollator.

If your loved one has difficulty walking or transferring, work with them and an occupational or physical therapist to find the right product to help them stay active. An occupational therapist is trained to provide comprehensive solutions for seniors with mobility challenges. Modifications to the home environment can be made to accommodate mobility equipment and seniors can re-learn daily routines with the assistance of a supportive device. Look for a device that provides the support and stability they need and is easy to use and transport.

Many seniors view mobility aids as a nuisance, but they are intended to extend independence and improve safety. Emphasize this fact. Even if a senior is wheelchair bound, they can get outside with some planning and the right equipment.

Read: Expert Advice on Aging in Place

Be Patient

Many caregivers wish to enrich their loved ones’ lives with activities and outings. This can be difficult, if not impossible, when seniors retreat into the comfort of their homes. Remember to keep your expectations realistic. Some older individuals were never keen on spending time outside, even in their younger days. Sitting near an open window may be plenty outdoorsy as far as they’re concerned. In other cases, a caregiver may need to use ample reassurance and a hint of tough love to get a loved one to step outside their comfort zone—literally.

If getting out simply is not an option—whether it is because they are unable or unwilling—then bring the outdoors to them. Purchase some easy-to-maintain indoor plants or keep a fresh vase of flowers in the room where they spend most of their time. Open a window or two for a little while each day, and try to keep shades and blinds open to let in plenty of natural sunlight. These efforts will keep both of your spirits up.

Renata Gelman, RN, B.S.N., is assistant director of clinical services at Partners in Care, an affiliate of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY). In this role, she coordinates patient care and manages a multi-disciplinary team of field nursing and home health care professionals in the clinical area of a VNSNY’s private care division.

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My 86 yr old mother got her rollator through her dr (he has to ok it thru medicare). I believe they can can one 'device' to help them every 5 years. I don't recommend a 3 wheel rollator (they can tip easily), so pick out a good one with a seat. I hope this helps.
Since winter I've been having trouble getting my husband out of the house. I think that the idea of getting him to the mailbox and then for shorter walks may help. I've missed several doctor's appointments because he wants to just retreat to his bed. He still comes down the steps to eat. I may try to put his meals out on the patio so he'll at least be outside when the weather permits.
Take your aging parent outside! Why worry about whether one has to use a wheelchair or a walker, learn to over come the obstacles.

My mother has a broken leg and Alzheimer's, she uses a wheelchair to get around in. We take mom out to eat, outside to the outdoors, on cruises, traveling in our 5th wheel and much more. We do not let obstacles stand in our way because we choose not to listen to silly nonsense.

My older sister spent 12 years, when my mom was in good health, not taking her out much. My mom didn't drive and was dependent upon my sister, but she wouldn't even let mom walk around the grocery store. It was not uncommon for mom to not leave her home for a week.

My mom loves to shop and go, it is where I get it from. So we do not allow things to get in our way. Use creative thinking skills and look for solutions versus trying to hide them. Perhaps if we treated our aging parents to the outside world they would get more respect.

I have been doing this for 2 years with my mom, we have taken 2 cruises and countless trips to several states. I can't even count the number of times we have been out to eat and shopping.