Breaking research

Litter, traffic and vandalism can stop older adults from leaving their homes

Elderly community

Maintenance of communities in which elderly people live is vital for their health and wellbeing, new research suggests.

Pot holes, noise, litter, traffic and vandalism can create anxieties in elderly people and stop them from leaving their house, engaging with their communities and prevent them living a healthy and active lifestyle.

The research from Manchester Metropolitan University, published in the PsyEcology journal, interviewed 102 older adults age 60-92 in nine neighbourhoods across Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow to understand more about their experiences of living in urban environments.

Many participants reported feeling insecure in their communities, which often stemmed from concerns about maintenance of their neighbourhoods, and the physical and social features of the environment.

Problem pavements

Pavements and kerbs were particularly problematic for those with mobility and visual impairments, and some participants thought that street spaces failed to reflect the needs of older adults by supporting their accessibility and inclusivity.

Many felt they had an “inability to defend themselves” in potentially dangerous situations and had a “fear of falling”, which often created a barrier to leaving their home.

Dr Jenny Fisher, who was part of the research team, and co-lead at Manchester Metropolitan and Head of the Department, Social Care and Social Work, said: “The design of public spaces can confront older adults with barriers and hazards, making the environment uncomfortable and unsafe to use.

“This can affect older adults’ experiences of being active and involved in their communities, and have an impact on their wellbeing. The research is important as the findings have led to recommendations about how organisations and policy makers can respond to the barriers experienced by older adults.”

Although older adults experience lower victimisation rates when compared to other social groups, older people reported greater levels of perceived insecurities and feeling unsafe in their neighbourhoods.

Sense of community

Negative media portrayals and stigma attached to certain places had an impact on the way participants felt in a public space.

A strong sense of community and familiarity in a neighbourhood provided older adults with a more positive perception of safety and security. Older adults who had friends and were known in the community felt as though they were looked after and were less apprehensive about using the neighbourhood.

Disadvantaged communities were more likely to report a stronger sense of familiarity and feeling of safety compared to the least deprived communities and those experiencing social segregation.

Rebecca Lawthom, Professor of Community Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan, said: “This research shows that we need to shift towards a broader understanding of perceptions of safety and security, beyond current notions of ‘fear of crime’ to including factors such as accessibility and usability of public space, and involvement with other residents.

“Although prevention and policing services are important, we need to find ways to support people to feel more confident and secure in their communities through approaches to place management.”

The researchers now hope to use the results to influence practice and policy priorities relating to age-friendly cities and have produced recommendations.

This research is part of a three-year ESRC-funded project (Economic and Social Research Council) examining enablers and barriers to creating age-friendly communities that promote healthy and active ageing.

*Reposted with permission from Manchester Metropolitan University*