Monday, March 16, 2009

Hispanic Elders Benefit from Architecture with Front Porches

I talk about the importance of a front porch in my book "Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes.” Baby Boomer Haven, an imaginary nursing home based on best practices of some, but not enough, nursing homes that already exist, has a great front porch. This is how a resident describes the front porch when she takes the reader on a tour:

“I love sitting in my rocking chair out here on the front porch surrounded by nature. It reminds me of when I used to sit on the porch getting my hair combed down South when I was a girl. That’s where I heard grownups tell stories about my family and African American history. The front porch is where I first grabbed a handle on life. In later years, that was where my own children learned life lessons and heard stories that were passed down through generations. Nowadays, other residents and I rock our chairs to discussions about everything imaginable.”

Did you grow up having a front porch or stoop where you could sit for hours interacting with and observing neighborhood happenings? Do you still have one? If you have had that experience, you’ll understand why the research I’m about to explain praises “positive front entrances” for elders in a low-income Hispanic neighborhood.

According to “Environmental Health Perspectives,” researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine theorized that Hispanic elders’ social, psychological, and physical functioning would be impacted by “architectural features of the built environment” (front porches or stoops) that promoted direct observations and interactions with the neighborhood. Studying a 403-block area in urban Miami, Florida for three years, they arrived at the following conclusions:

Elders living on blocks marked by low levels of positive front entrance features were 2.7 times as likely to have subsequent poor levels of physical functioning, compared with elders living on blocks with a greater number of positive front entrance features. The research supports what those of us who have had front porches suspected all along: “Architectural features that facilitate visual and social contacts may be a protective factor for elders’ physical functioning.”

Excuse me while I go sit on the porch.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
"Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes”
“Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog”


  1. As a psychologist in nursing homes, I take my patients out to the patio for therapy sessions as often as possible. It's rejuvenating just to get fresh air and away from the buzzers and bells of the unit, but the best patios, by far, are the ones that allow the residents to watch, and interact with, the passersby.

    Eleanor Feldman Barbera,PhD

  2. I totally agree. Thanks for sharing. Frances

  3. I liked what was commented by DR. Barbera.

  4. Interesting article. Thanks

  5. This is such a great topic. How building are designed affects the residents so much that it is nice to see attention on it. John Reiling's team does a good job pointing out the safty aspects of design, but understanding the mental impact that design has on us all in all stages of life is just as important. Thank you for this article.