Physical environmental factors for aging in place

Presented by: Dr. Seunghae Lee, Dr. Yunhee Lee

The population worldwide is aging as lifespans increase while birth rates decrease, resulting in the number of people older than 65 years of age surpassing the number of younger cohorts (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2013). As people age, their physical and cognitive abilities decrease, and it causes a lack of capacity to cope with challenges performing daily activities in their home environment. Although many elderly people move in to care facilities when they can no longer sustain their living in their own houses, they may still wish to age in their own places. The topic of aging in place has been attracting scholars’ and researchers’ attention from various sectors. Federal policies incorporate provisions that are inclusive of this local movement of promoting aging in place (Greenfield, 2012). As Greenfield (2012) explained, aging in place is theorized as a person-environment phenomenon in an ecological framework of gerontology. This study aimed to explore the Person-Environment fit in elderly housing in order to promote aging in place in a home environment. Previous studies have demonstrated that physical environmental intervention is as critical as other interventions such as social and medical (Gitlin, Corcoran, Winter, Boyce, & Hauck, 2001; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2013). Although policies have not yet been implemented to help elderly people age in place with physical environmental support, it is time to explore elderly people’s needs in this area. For this purpose, the structured interviews were conducted to identify physical environmental factors that elderly people perceive as the areas where improvement is needed. The subjects of this study were 31 older adults recruited through a university’s center for aging research registry; 22 female participants and 9 male participants were interviewed for about an hour per each. Interviews examined areas that older adults felt were difficult to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADL) around their houses. Results showed that elderly people felt most dissatisfied with stairs, while they were highly satisfied with other areas in their home environment. This study also explored physical and spatial characteristics that older adults felt satisfied or dissatisfied with and difficult-to-perform activities in bathroom and kitchen areas. Results revealed that elderly people felt most uncomfortable taking baths (average 1.58; 1 being very uncomfortable and 5 comfortable) while they felt comfortable (average 4 or over) for most of other activities such as using the sink or showering. For the kitchen area, participants felt comfortable for most daily activities in the kitchen. For needs for assistive devices, participants did not feel that they needed assistive devices such as adaptive tableware, touchless faucets, or adjustable-height sinks (averages around 2; 1 being extremely unnecessary). The only exception for needs for assistive devices was that they felt they needed accessible shelving (average 3.77). Interviews with participants showed that while they felt mostly satisfied with current conditions of their home environments, they felt difficulties to perform activities where they needed to deal with heights such as stairs and shelves. Some implications are that manufacturers and designers of products for elderly people may focus on specific products to offer adjustability and accessibility. Future policies for elderly people may need to reflect this finding that physical environmental support is needed for easier access to heights.

References:

  • Gitlin, L., Corcoran, M., Winter, L., Boyce, A., & Hauck, W. (2001). A randomized, controlled trial of a home environmental intervention: Effect on efficacy and upset in caregivers and on daily function of persons with dementia. The Gerontologist, 41(1), 4-14.
  • Greenfield, E. (2012). Using ecological frameworks to advance a field of research, practice, and policy on aging-in-place initiatives. The Gerontologist, 52(1), 1-12.
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2013). RWJF scholar pioneers innovative program to help low-income elderly age at home. Retrieved from http://www.rwjf.org/en/library/articles-and-news/2013/04/rwjf-scholar-pioneers-innovative-program-to-help-low-income-elde.html
  • United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. (2013). Ageing. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/theme/ageing/index.shtml
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