Saturday, April 12, 2014

Labyrinth Walking at any Age

Recently a local architect approached our small group and asked for some more information about labyrinths "for seniors".  He has been following the progress of the creation of our labyrinth with interest - and felt drawn to proposing that a labyrinth be incorporated in a new project that he is currently working on with a landscape architect and client.

I first reached out to a master labyrinth builder and fellow labyrinth facilitator Lisa Gidlow Moriarty for some information.   She provided photos of a couple of labyrinths installed in senior settings: a senior centre located near Chicago, Illinois and a nursing home near Minneapolis, Minnesota:
Wheelchair-friendly labyrinth at Senior Centre near Chicago - crushed granite applied to pre-tinted concrete
Accessible labyrinth at Nursing Home near Minneapolis - design applied with a soy-based concrete stain
There are important considerations needed in choosing a proper design for this setting/audience, including: size, path width, wheelchair/walker accessibility in materials and design to name a few.
Crushed granite product (blue) applied to form the labyrinth pattern

Of note - when we were designing the Carleton Place Community Labyrinth accessibility was a very important consideration.  If someone is not able to walk on the turf path - they can circle the labyrinth on the outer contemplation ring or walk the labyrinth using the finger labyrinth on the granite bench.
Sit quietly and trace the path of the labyrinth with your finger - you will be touched by the experience!
I also reached out through the Veriditas labyrinth facilitator network regarding this subject and was heartened to receive the following responses.  If anyone else has other experiences or information to share - we would love to hear from you!

Hi all:
If this is an architect asking, I would gather he would be interested in accommodating some of the challenges that come with seniors.  If space allows, slightly wider paths to accommodate walkers, and even wheel chairs would be helpful.  Just yesterday, we had an older woman come to our monthly walk at Trinity Cathedral.  She required a quad cane but was anxious to walk for the first time.  The first few walkers to enter all knelt at the gateway and she was concerned she had to do so.  I reassured her that whatever she wished to do and was able to do was appropriate and that she could use her cane.  She went ahead and walked.  I don't know whether she had answers to any issues, but she was much more relaxed when she completed her walk.


Whilst I appreciate that many seniors are physically very able, it's possible that some of the issues in designing a labyrinth for a hospice setting may be relevant. I'm thinking here about mobility, carers, bereavement, other particular issues that older age can bring. Lizzie Hopthrow has written about labyrinths for hospices in the recent (2013) book edited by Ruth Sewell, Di Williams and myself: Working with the Labyrinth. (Published in the UK, but there's a pdf and downloadable version too)

Warmest wishes

Dear Christine and all,
Some other installation issues to consider are that pavers can be a problematic for wheelchairs, walkers, and people with balance issues. Also remember that when you widen the paths, especially in a nine, eleven, or even in a seven-circuit labyrinth, that it can make the walk a lot longer to complete.

It is so wonderful to hear how the facilitators here are sharing their stories of how they are holding the space for their senior walkers. These are beautiful stories!

Thank you everyone!

Hi All
I am attaching a photo of a ‘family’ labyrinth walk. 4 generations of family gathered on Cape Cod.

Family labyrinth walk on Cape Cod
As you can see the older person (matriarch) in wheelchair was included. Everyone was glad to have her on the walk, wheelchair and all. The pavers presented no problem and the older person was happy to be included. If installed correctly the pavers are easy to navigate, but support from others is always helpful!

Dear Donald and all,
You are right. If the pavers are installed properly it does make the labyrinth more accessible to wheelchairs and walkers. But as you point out here, the paver installation must be made with this in mind. I think what I was also thinking of was the hospital paver labyrinths that I've seen that have not been installed properly and the problem with people trying to walk and bring along their IV cart, as well as wheelchairs and walkers. So thank you for making this distinction.

This is a beautiful picture. Thank you for sharing it with us!

Thanks, Lea, for this.
In senior facilities it is so very important to understand the clients/users. There are many kinds of pavers and other hard surfaces. While wheelchairs with large wheels find pavers less problematic, using a walker, a 4-legged cane or IV cart is another issue.  Some elders tend to shuffle when walking, so an uneven surface may pose a challenge for them.

Being aware of surface texture is important. Concrete can be stamped to resemble stone, but when stamped too deeply, the surface is uneven and dangerous for people with walkers or balance difficulties. It might also hold small puddles of rainwater, adding yet another challenge.

Similarly, granite is beautiful and can have a nice, slightly textured surface, but add rain or water from a nearby sprinkler and it can become a slipping hazard.

Of course here in northern climates we have deep freeze/thaw cycles that cause the earth to move, pushing pavers out.  Accordingly, proper installation requires attention to base material and depth to minimize seasonal movement.

Proper design is also a consideration. When hips or knee issues are present, designs with fewer turns or more sweeping turns are worth consideration. Additionally, patterns with an alternate entrance/exit such as the Baltic Wheel provide options for fatigue, decreased stamina, and varying degrees of ability.


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