Benefits of a Deck for Seniors and Design Considerations

Spending time outside on a deck has many benefits. A well-designed deck provides these benefits while minimizing the challenges faced by seniors. There are three primary considerations when designing and building a senior’s deck.

These considerations when building a deck built for a senior are to minimize fall risks to reduce injury, shade to prevent heat stroke along with selecting material requiring low amounts of annual maintenance.  Allowing the full enjoyment and benefit of a deck without the negative elements.

These all can be incorporated into a deck’s design and construction, allowing many years of enjoyment and benefits on the deck.

Before getting into the details of making a deck safer for a senior, let’s discuss some of the benefits. The benefits and reasons why a deckOpens in a new tab. is a good idea for all ages but especially seniors.

Which we will look at first, then the practical ways to make them better for our later years.

The Benefits of a Deck for Seniors

What value does a deckOpens in a new tab. have? It is an outdoor room. Like all rooms of your home, it has a function and value to you. The single most significant benefit of a deck is it brings you outside. It is your outdoor room. The best place in your house to enjoy being outdoors and reap the many benefits.

The Overlook, a seniors living community, has a great list on their website of the benefits of spending time outdoors. To read the full article, click hereOpens in a new tab..

Benefits of Being Outdoors

  1. Lift your Spirits
  2. Improve your Sleep
  3. Strengthen your Immune Function
  4. Keep your Vitamin D Levels Healthy
  5. Give your Energy a Jolt
  6. Boost Overall Health
  7. Enhance Relationships

As you can quickly see, being outdoors is good for both how you feel and your physical health.  An attached deck to your house allows for convenient and easy access to these benefits.

The single most considerable benefit which pours into many other health benefits is the increased vitamin D. Vitamin D helps to reduce osteoporosis, heart disease and some types of cancer.

 “Even a short visit in a garden can lower blood pressure, improve vitamin D absorption, improve stability, and help with better sleep patterns.”

Chicago BotanicOpens in a new tab.

Yes, some supplements can be taken, but natural doses as God intended from the sun is best. More enjoyable, with better impact.

Improve Memory from Stepping Outside

Another benefit of stepping outside on your deck is it brings you closer to the trees in your yard. Which surprising research of the University of MichiganOpens in a new tab. has found improves memory.

Simply stepping out and observing the leaves blow in the breeze. Or sitting outside with nature on the deck will improve recall. Maybe all we need is a few more moments on a deck to “smell the roses” to enjoy nature’s beauty.

Sitting inside with memories quickly fleeting. With the same walls closing in around, may be stepping out on the deck for a few minutes will bring you back in refreshed and able to enjoy the moments. Both past and present.

Senior’s Challenges Satisfied with a Deck

There are several challenges that increase with age. Varying by the individual but increasing among seniors.  

Vital Record, a news publication of Texas A&M Health, has a list of 10 common senior’s health challenges. You can read the full list by clicking here. But I will highlight a few which decks help minimize.

  • Bladder Control
  • Sensory Impairment
  • Physical Injury
  • Depression

We do not choose these challenges but must live with them. A deck can help us.

With the deck close to your washroom, those sudden urges to use the restroom can quickly be satisfied. As you are always close to home even when you are outside.

With a deck being a regular part of the house, we can learn to navigate even without full perception of the things around us. Knowing where the chairs are and the planter. Even the handrail to rest on. Making spending times outdoors easier even when our eye site is reduced.

A well-built deck with even decking surrounded by railing can reduce injury by providing a safe outdoor space.

As we already mentioned from the benefits of being outdoors, sunshine combats depression. It is not the cure-all, but a few minutes outside regularly helps us all to feel more refreshed.

“Arthritis is probably the number one condition that people 65 or older contend with,” says geriatrician Marie Bernard, MD, deputy director of the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland. The CDC estimates that it affects 49.7 percent of all adults over 65 and can lead to pain and lower quality of life for some seniors.” 

Everyday HealthOpens in a new tab.

As arthritis progresses, our mobility is limited. What once was an easy step up and down now becomes a challenge. The level floor of a deck makes going outside easier. The hikes in the forest we once enjoyed. Can be replaced with a level deck in which to stroll outside on. Enjoying the birds singing, the breeze blowing across our face while the sun warms our skin. Without the struggle of hiking around boulders and over fallen trees.

Deck Design Consideration for Seniors

But for a deck to be beneficial as you age, wise designing is required. Incorporating elements to address senior’s challenges. That the deck can be enjoyed for years even as we age.

There are three primary considerations when designing a deck to be enjoyed by a senior. These are fall hazards, reduce mobility and heat.

Reducing Fall Hazards on a Senior’s Deck

A senior’s deck needs to be designed to minimize fall potential.

“Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.”

National Council of AgingOpens in a new tab.

Most falls will happen by the deck stairs, transitions between areas and the perimeter of the deck. These risks can be reduced in a number of ways.

Reducing Senior’s Falls on Deck Stairs

Firstly, the deck should be designed with a minimal number of steps.

When stairs are required on a senior’s deck, design them for a gradual descent. Making the step-less demanding.

By code, the risers can be as tall as 8″ (200mm) but closer to the minimum is better, 5″ (125mm). Making the steps down easier. This will require adding an extra step or two at times, but the gradual descent is more comfortable to descend.

But in regards to tread, research by InspectapediaOpens in a new tab. has found the optimal depth is between 11-13″ (280-330mm).

Often the depth of two decking boards. A nice look, but also a safe tread depth.

A greater depth increases the risk of tripping, creating an awkward stride. Forcing a step and a half, which is never good. On the deck’s stairs.

Speaking of treads. The decking treads need to have good tractionOpens in a new tab.. Tracking strips may need to be added to the treads to ensure secure footing.

With synthetic decking, PVC varieties like AzekOpens in a new tab. or a high textured composite like Envision Evergrain decking have a higher slip resistance. The lower-cost composite deckingOpens in a new tab. often being the worst offenders. Primarily because of a lack of embossed texture. The higher priced decking has more decking texture and traction.

Ironically, shorter flights of stairs, less than six steps, have a higher level of risks. But flights greater than 12 steps should have a “rest” landing. Breaking up the trek down the stairs. With a comfortable place to catch one’s breath.

Regardless of length, all senior’s stairs should have a handrail. To steady and catch oneself while going down the stairs. There is do ideal height, but a good range is between 31″ and 36″ (800-900mm).

Highlighting treads with lights and colour change.

Subconsciously our brains focus on colour changes. A decking colour change on the stairs quickly highlights difference drawing attention to possible danger. Preventing absent-minded steps off the deck.

As a bonus contrasting colour picture framed decking is visually appealing.

Darkness makes judging depth difficult. Well lite stairs are eaiser to navigate.

Care needs to be taken as not to create shadows. As the shadows on the stairs can create confusion in judging depth.

Well placed riser lights not only increase the ambience of the deck but also illuminate the stair treads. 

Reducing Senior’s Falls by Deck Entrances

The height change from inside the house to the deck should be minimal. A deck 3 ½” (89mm) or less below the door threshold is ideal. Creating a comfortable step out the door unto the deck.

Also, partial shading of the deck’s entrance can help eyes adjust from indoor light to the outdoor sun. This can be done with an awning above the door or a pergola reducing the sun’s glare.

It is best to avoid draping the pergola with vines at the deck’s entrance as the dancing shadows from the moving leaves can increase tripping.

“A pergola or draped plant material creates patterned shadows on the ground. This is referred to as “visual cliffing” in design. Seniors react to changes in paving color, or deep shadows on a path as if they were a change in depth. This may lead to stumbles, fear, and discomfort. Simply avoiding structures such as arbors or trellises will alleviate this issue.”

Chicago Botanical

Increase Senior’s Deck Perimeter Safety

As noted with stairs, a decking colour change around the deck perimeter will increase safety—high lighting the edge of the deck.

Deck railing becomes even more valuable with seniors. Both as a fall barrier and doubling as a convenient handrail.

Even if the deck is less than 24″ (600mm) above grade, railing is a good idea. For anyone but especially a senior, a fall of two feet can send one to the hospital. Deck railing prevents this.

Lower railing actually can be more beneficial for seniors. A top rail of 36″ (900mm) becomes a convenient handrailing around the perimeter of the deck. Allowing one to walk around the deck without a cane.

But in most jurisdictions, decks higher than 5’11” (1.8m) above grade require 42″ (1070mm) railing. In this case, a senior with mobility challenges may want to install a handrailing at a lower height off the deck railing. Aiding walking while meeting the railing height requirements.

Selecting Deck Furniture for Seniors

Standing by the railing, enjoying the view and sun can be beneficial, but sitting will increase time outdoors.

A senior’s deck should have a comfortable chair for sitting in. Softer material is preferred. A cushion is even better.

When we were younger, a low lounger deck chair was comfortable but will become a challenge as we age. Higher seats between 17-19″ 430-480mm) is easier to get up from.

If a lower chair is desired, placing it close to a handrail will help in pulling oneself up. Making even a lounging deck chair workable.

Reducing Heat Stroke on a Deck

Many of us love the heat of the summer on our decks but for seniors this can be a health risk.

“As we age, our ability to adequately respond to summer heat can become a serious problem. Older people are at significant increased risk of heat-related illnesses”

National Institutes of HealthOpens in a new tab.

This doesn’t mean that as we age, we no longer enjoy the sun rays on the deck, but cooling elements need to be incorporated. This simplest is shade. Shade on the deck will reduce the temperature a few degrees and allow enjoyment even in the heat of the summer.

There are four excellent shade deck elements.

  • Pergola
  • Privacy Wall
  • Deck Shade Sail
  • Awning

All are varying in price and how much they cool the deck.

Pergolas, the most significant deck element in both costs and impact on the deck year round. The not only provide partial shade year round but also add an element to the deck’s design and look.

The amount of shade depends on the rafter spacing and if a canopy is added to the underside of the rafter.

Also, with only the post supporting the pergola, the sun’s heat can still come in the side and may require a privacy wall also be incorporated to the deck’s design to block the sun’s late day heat.

A great deck design feature with the added benefit of cooling shade.

Privacy Wall, on a deck, are great for casting a shadow over the deck cooling the deck.

One drawback in blocking the sun is the privacy walls also blocks the view. If the sun comes in the same direction as the view, a privacy wall is not the right solution. As a glass privacy wall allows you to enjoy the view but will often increase the temperature on the deck.

Opposite of a pergola, privacy walls are good for cooling the deck from late day heat but not the direct overhead sun. Which is why they often work best together. Each is cooling the deck during different times of the day.

Deck shade sail is a very economical deck shade solution without the year around intrusion.

During the heat of the summer, stretched between four poles providing relief from the summer heat. When the scorching summer heat is gone, the shade can be taken down, returning the beautiful open sky.

But for a senior installing and packing up the sail ever year may be an immense task then ideal.

Also, they are called a sail for a reason. During a windstorm, the deck sail may be blown away at the loss of both shade and the sail. Meaning packing up between use is ideal, but again maybe more strain then desired.

A retractable awning on the deck may be a better solution. With the advantages of shade on-demand and the open sky’s as the day cools.

The push of a button can retract a good quality mechanical awning. Preventing wind damage while allowing one to enjoy the open sky when the sun is not as hot.

But easily ten times the cost of a deck sail.

Regardless of what you choose, incorporate shade into your deck to prevent heat stroke while enjoying the sun on your deck.

Minimizing Deck Maintenance for Seniors

In short, the less, the better.

Regardless of the size or deck design, a senior’s deck should be built of material, not requiring large levels of annual maintenance.

With lower energy levels and possible arthritis joints, a senior’s deck should be low maintenance.

There are many different types of decking available now requiring low levels of maintenance ideal for seniors. The leading ones being composite or PVC deckingOpens in a new tab..

Two of the more popular brands are TimberTech and TrexOpens in a new tab.. Both manufactures of quality low maintenance decking ideal for a senior’s deck.

Conclusion of a Senior’s Deck

An attached deck on a senior’s home is a great addition. Providing opportunity to enjoy the benefits of being outdoors comfortably and safely.

But to do this, they must be designed well with gradual stairs, handrails and pattern change to highlight deck changes. Along with shade elements to prevent overheating. In all these designs, features selecting material to keep deck maintenance chores to a minimum. For the deck is a pleasure, not a drain.

Then even in our later years, we can enjoy our deck.

Ryan Nickel

A Red Seal carpenter, passionate about building decks to be enjoyed.

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