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‘Looking for flowering trees to walk past’: A qualitative study of US older adults’ therapeutic landscapes during the COVID-19 pandemic
* 1 , 2 , 3 , 4
1  Division of Population Health, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Ireland
2  Program in Health Disparities Research, University of Minnesota, United States of America
3  Centre for Social Epidemiology and Population Health, University of Michigan, United States of America
4  Social Environment and Health, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, United States of America


Background: Exposure to parks and other residential green spaces have been associated with better physical and mental wellbeing in later life. However, there is limited evidence about their role during the COVID-19 pandemic when public health efforts to contain the virus have included shelter-in-place orders and restrictions of movement. The aim of this study is to explore the experiences and perceptions of older adults regarding the role of nature, green and blue spaces for supporting wellbeing during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US.

Methods: We utilized data from the COVID-19 Coping Study, a longitudinal mixed-methods study of US adults aged over 55. Participants were recruited between April and May 2020 using online multi-frame non-probability sampling (n= 6938). A list of keywords screened open-ended questions and created a qualitative database for the present study, including all responses that relate to participants’ experiences, attitudes and behaviours about engaging with green/blue spaces and nature during the pandemic (n=769). Analysis is ongoing utilizing NVivo12 software following Braun and Clarke’s steps for thematic analysis.

Results: Preliminary results suggest that during the implementation of public health restrictions, participants purposefully engaged with nature and green/blue spaces in diverse ways. For instance, through garden views from a household window, tending to potted flowers on a balcony, or taking long walks in a nearby park. Older adults appreciated that outdoor spaces provided opportunities for exercising, social interaction and maintaining a routine at a safe physical distance from others, which boosted their social, mental and physical wellbeing.

Conclusion: Our preliminary findings indicate that for older adults, nature and green/blue spaces play an influential role in coping with the negative effects of the COVID-19 restrictions. Understanding these therapeutic landscapes provides opportunities to develop or adapt community and environmental interventions that promote the health and wellbeing of older people during pandemics and their aftermath.

Keywords: Therapeutic landscapes, physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing, COVID-19, older adults