Providing the first UK assessment of environmental gerontology, this book enriches current understanding of the spatiality of ageing.
Sheila Peace considers how places and spaces contextualise personal experience in varied environments, from urban and rural to general and specialised housing. Situating extensive research within multidisciplinary thinking, and incorporating policy and practice, this book assesses how personal health and wellbeing affect different experiences of environment. It also considers the value of intergenerational and age-related living, the meaning of home and global to local concerns for population ageing.
Drawing on international comparisons, this book offers a valuable resource for new research and important lessons for the future.
The housing problems of older people in our society are highly topical because of the growing number of retired people in the population and, especially, the yet-to-come increasing number of ‘very old’ people. Government policies on the care of older people have been forthcoming from Whitehall, but the issue of housing is just beginning to be seriously addressed.
This book represents a first attempt at bringing together people from the worlds of architecture, social science and housing studies to look at the future of living environments for an ageing society. Projecting thinking into the future, it asks critical questions and attempts to provide some of the answers. It uniquely moves beyond the issues of accommodation and care to look at the wider picture of how housing can reflect the social inclusion of people as they age.
Inclusive housing in an ageing society will appeal to a wide audience - housing, health and social care workers including: housing officers, architects, planners and designers, community regeneration workers, care managers, social workers and social care assistants, registered managers and housing providers, health improvement staff and, of course, current and future generations of older people.
When asked if they might move after retiring from paid employment, and whether this might be to special housing geared towards older people, many research respondents will say they haven’t really thought about it and wish to stay in their own home for ‘as long as possible’. This is despite the fact that their stories show they have thought about it even if it has not been widely discussed, and some have been used to moving throughout their lives (Holland, 2001; Wiles, 2005b; Peace et al, 2006). Attachment to place involves the coming together of levels of environmental understanding, and it has been noted ‘that individual experience of place is layered and that knowledge of personal biography and experience in time and space leads to greater clarification of the complexity of person–environment interaction’ (Peace et al, 2011, p 754).
Here, vignettes from anonymised and real name participants who wished to be named in research are introduced and they have all given consent for their stories to be told. They have been drawn from three British research studies that consider the detail of environment and ageing. The concept of ‘option recognition’, which captures the extent of environmental impact on decision making in later life, is then introduced. Consideration is given to how this theoretical development relates to research within other developed countries, especially the ENABLE-AGE researchers who similarly take into account the normality of environmental continuity and change in very old age. To conclude, the lens of general housing is used to reflect on the meaning of home.
This chapter returns to considering the ways in which environmental gerontologists address key issues. Although the earlier discussion of theoretical development in Chapter 2 did not detail a methodological approach, we are drawn here to the qualitative work of Gubrium, Rowles, Rubinstein and de Mederios, for example, who have developed ethnographic methods and phenomenological approaches that help us to understand the minute detail of everyday living in later life. Like other gerontologists in this field such as Oswald, Wahl, Chaudhury, Golant, Bernard and Burholt, the current author has experience of mixed methods research, in which in-depth perspectives can be viewed within a bigger picture. This may include innovative measurement and the triangulation of data in analysis (see Kellaher et al, 1990; Mertens and Hess-Biber, 2012).
In addition, the approach to research here has been influenced by the author’s colleagues at The Open University (OU) who have expertise in biographical studies, oral history and autobiographical writing (Johnson, 1978; Atkinson and Williams, 1990; Bornat, 1994, 2001; Holland, 2001; Bytheway, 2009, 2011). While these methods emerged through social history and sociology (Chamberlayne et al, 2000; Thompson, 2000), they underpinned the need for in-depth knowledge of personal narrative, leading in 1995 to the launch of the Centre for Ageing and Biographical Studies at the OU’s then School of Health and Social Welfare. Through bringing these traditions together, this author has continued her interest in how environmental experience, both individual and group, can be understood through environmental biography and participatory research that is grounded in place.
Motivation, agency and choice are key when people make decisions about changing where they live. The concept of option recognition was introduced as a forerunner to this decision, for some being part of rightsizing their accommodation or changing their location, for others a consequence or concern for their health and well-being; the reasons are entangled. As already acknowledged, older people’s housing is part of the public debate about intergenerational relations, the lack of family housing and financial transfers. Independent Age (2016) report that talking to the family about housing, care and end of life are some of the most difficult conversations older people may have that may encourage change. This chapter focuses on alternative environments of housing and care that for some are the outcome of that change.
While discussions may range from good ideas to recognising insufficient knowledge about alternatives, the ability or motivation to move may never be considered by those who decide to stay put. Living with others who are non-family members in a form of communal living is experienced by many across their lives, yet they may not make the comparison with arrangements in later life. Heywood et al, (2002, p 118) comment on collective living in student halls of residence, shared residences in early adulthood, assisted living in later life and (in advanced old age) the experience of residential care and nursing homes. Nevertheless, to date a relatively small percentage of people aged 65 and over in the UK make a change to age-related housing (with care).
While different dimensions of environment – physical, social, cultural, political – can be considered separately, together they form the environmental context of place that is central to an ecological perspective. Throughout their lives, people live in dynamic interaction with this context, developing psychological understanding of it (Wahl and Lang, 2004; Keating et al, 2013), a view referred to here as ‘environmental living’. Environmental living in later life is the focus of the following five chapters. We move to national (meso-) and local (micro-) scales of reference, using the UK and England as an example, in which locations, settings and situations can be examined. As these scenarios are central to research undertaken by the author and colleagues over the past decades, Chapter 6 forms a bridge to empirical research connecting issues relating to intergenerational and age-related environments. The concept of ‘home’ alongside associated issues of ‘homeland’ is pivotal in this discussion; it is introduced here and is a running theme throughout.
The word ‘home’ has diverse cultural definitions and is at the heart of a breadth of literature. For many it is a locational term, which is focused on specific housing yet often has a broader base regarding neighbourhood, community, city and nation – connecting with the concept of homeland. This extended definition includes layers of attachment that help to define a person’s identity within a particular place. Space and place merge in a meaning of home that is associated with the personal through positive concepts of belonging, security, familiarity and privacy, while sometimes guarding negative concerns regarding gendered domestic activity, non-decent housing, isolation, loneliness and a life of fear or abuse (Peace, 2015).
To establish the scope of this chapter, I return to two key factors. First, as outlined in Figure 0.1, environments of ageing can be seen on different but interrelating spatial scales. Second, the relationship between environments seen at these different levels relates to individual behaviour and quality of life, which is revealed through interactions. These factors are considered in the light of theoretical developments taken from two bodies of work, social gerontology (in particular environmental gerontology) and the developing theoretical literature in geographical gerontology that extends our understanding of ageing through the spatial turn, as seen in Chapter 1. In general, theoretical perspectives from social gerontology are centred on the individual based at the local- or micro-level, what can be called the near environment – the dwelling, neighbourhood or community, with some matters relating to city, town and village. The concern here is how ideas can be extended so that environments of ageing can be recognised at both meso- and macro-levels of analysis, involving individual and collective behaviour. Here, perspectives offered by geographical gerontology may be beneficial, as they extend interdisciplinarity and participatory methods and particular theoretical approaches.
As clinical, physiological and psychological aspects of gerontology were studied during the 20th century (Kontos, 2005a), a human ecological perspective developed in the US and in Europe, and this underpins many ideas in environmental gerontology (Kleemier, 1959, 1961; Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Bernard and Rowles, 2013; Rowles and Bernard, 2013).
When considering the journey made across different environments of ageing, and the wealth of literature covered, there are many paths and views that could have been taken. The aim of this chapter is to foreground contextual issues central to environmental gerontology. The spatiality of ageing started with a global perspective even if knowledge of person–environment (P–E) interaction is commonly local and national. Here a relational approach is taken to these spatial levels, looking at flows captured at different times through people and place. It returns to global concerns to reassess local and national impact that affects social exclusion and inclusion in later life, a part of the iterative theme of environmental living and the concept of home. In seeking a circularity of ideas with global to local, local to global influence relationality is used as a way to understand environments of ageing.
In Chapter 3, a discussion of global concerns focused on the big issues that are part of this challenging time. Thinking relating to global health focuses not only on definitions of active ageing and the ability of individuals to take personal responsibility for diet, exercise, activity and participation, but also the parallel incidence of long-term chronic ill health and end of life. Such experience varies within and between developed and developing countries where inequalities of personal and social health are related. When writing in October 2021, health for all ages is a chief concern as the COVID-19 pandemic has taken hold globally.
Environmental gerontologists who are concerned with researching the context of adult human experience and behaviour in later life regard person/environment (P–E) interaction as pivotal to ageing well. Consequently, Chapter 1 opens with the actor and their stage – the separate characteristics of older people and their environment based on lives in Western developed countries. By discussing these separately, they are then brought together to recognise interaction between them in everyday experiences. Finally, we move beyond this individualised interaction within specific contexts, recognising that P–E also must be addressed at a collective level. This has implications both in terms of levels of interaction and the methodology by which the evidence base and research methods, particularly participatory studies, are supported.
Under the heading of Person (P), attention is paid to the boundaries of ageing, in other words how an older person is defined in this text. Consideration is given to ‘successful’ or ‘active’ ageing and proposed definitions of ‘third’ and ‘fourth’ ages. Such definitions are grounded in a heterogeneity that sees each individual as uniquely gendered and ethnically, sexually and culturally distinct. Late life experience is built on an understanding of the self that takes a wider life course perspective. All these characteristics have implications for P–E interaction, and awareness of this diversity is necessary before underlying theoretical perspectives are addressed in Chapter 2. Environment (E) then comes to the fore, with the central concerns being space, place and materiality. The underlying relationship between space and place as social, economic, psychological and cultural is unpacked before public and private domains are examined.
More than 90 per cent of older people in the UK live in general needs housing, forming the major component when discussing environments of ageing. Table 5.1 outlines the range of housing forms in later life. Approximately 5–6 per cent of the older population live in age-related communal housing, discussed in Chapter 7 along with co-housing, intentional housing that can be intergenerational or age-related. Additionally, 4–5 per cent live in care homes (residential and nursing care), which includes 15 per cent of the population aged 85 and over (Laing, 2018) and forms the focus of Chapter 8 (comparable typologies are seen in the Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation (HAPPI) report, written by Barac and Park, 2009, p 2 (see Glossary) and Park and Porteus, 2018, p 131).
This chapter focuses on mainstream housing, where housing type, tenure, standards and markets embed individual housing histories. It begins with a reflection on housing development during the 20th century to contextualise environments of ageing identified through the English Housing Survey. Then it moves to the built environment and housing policy, reflecting on how building regulations affect housing design. Issues regarding inclusive design and how dwellings seen as non-ableing could be retrofitted or adapted are discussed alongside the growing development of assistive technology. The chapter ends with further reflections on housing as home, the impact of receiving care in current housing and how older people are becoming involved in co-designing future housing. This sets the scene for the empirical research that is featured in Chapter 6, where general housing is considered with regard to the meaning of home.