As circumstances change, older people carefully gauge what no longer works well for them and make the necessary changes because they are determined to remain engaged in society, says a team led by Dr Sheila Peace of the Open University.
Rather than 'quality of life', the new study speaks of a 'life of quality'. By considering which aspects of their environment are important to them, older people are able to match their needs and wishes closely enough to allow an acceptable level of comfort and flexibility in everyday living.
The study involved groups of older people living in urban and rural areas and in a wide range of settings, from high-rise flats to residential care homes.
For most older people, the home environment is the key location for everyday life. Homes and neighbourhoods are full of personal and social meaning and they affect continuing independence and well-being, says the study.
The research looked at the connection between living environments and how people are able to maintain their identity and well-being, either in ordinary housing or in accommodation specially provided for older people. Dr Peace said: "Our work shows how people often put off the most radical decisions about changing where they live until faced with a crisis.
"For instance, we spoke to a man who had been mugged and treated in hospital. He was then faced with a period of rehabilitation at a residential care home. This experience showed him that he definitely did not want to live in a care home, but he could see the difficulties he would face in his own home. He really needed to know what his housing options were.
"Another man, whose wife found it very difficult to live in their home after a stroke, used his
Contact: Anna Hinds
Economic & Social Research Council