Older People's Use of Unfamiliar Space

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: School of Human Sciences

Abstract

The research explores older people's use and navigation of unfamiliar spaces as drivers, pedestrians and public transport users. It aims:






  • to investigate the influences on someone's ability to cope with unfamiliar environments; to examine the extent to which unfamiliar environments curtail autonomy and independence and lead to social (and environmental) exclusion;


  • to identify the environmental triggers that older people respond to, for example to determine the characteristics of places that makes them threatening.



In addition it will explore how technologies can assist in enabling older people to adapt to/change the environment.



Filming of unfamiliar routes will be displayed in a virtual reality cave. The filming will take place as a pedestrian. Older people will be asked to give a detailed narrative as they navigate a route and will be interviewed after the experience. Spatial planners (from the area of filming) will also be interviewed and will interact with older participants in discussing environmental design.



From the information a demonstrator GIS/GPS based spatial information tool will be developed, which older people will test. The research will also lead to a good practice guide for spatial planners.

 
Description Older people are increasingly experiencing environments that can be unfamiliar to them. This may be as a consequence of travelling as tourists to new areas; of urban regeneration; or as a result of cognitive decline, where the familiar becomes unfamiliar. This research explored the experiences, mechanisms and strategies used by older people to navigate unfamiliar as well as familiar urban spaces. Forty four participants who took part in a reality cave exercise, focus groups, a questionnaire and a sub group (10) who visited an unfamiliar area as pedestrians describe their use of landmarks, signage and their experience of navigating both familiar and unfamiliar town centres.

Landmarks and distinctive buildings were more important than signage in navigating unfamiliar areas; however the meaning of space and memories attached to place were significant, particularly in familiar spaces. Sensory overload and confusion over spaces shared by traffic and pedestrians were barriers to navigation and a positive appreciation of the environment. Such experiences can contribute to policy and practice implications for planners in designing for an ageing population. Planners are committed to make public spaces 'older person friendly' but they need to provide a number of different cues for navigation within the environment to meet diverse needs of older people. Designing outdoor spaces and routes that are pleasant, accommodating, easily walkable and navigable is important in making the environment less worrisome so that older people are able to retain their independence.
Exploitation Route Town Centre managers and planners in considering the needs of older people in designing centres and retail environments.
Sectors Construction,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Retail,Transport
URL http://www.newdynamics.group.shef.ac.uk/nda-findings-4.html
 
Description Findings have been distributed in newsletters and other media with a wide circulation to planners and policy makers. the Findings were considered by Colchester Town planners in their town plan and redesign of the town centre.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Environment,Retail
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services
 
Description BIS conference on 'Everybody Shops'. Presentation on easier Places: Environmental and navigational barriers 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Considerable discussion with different organisational representatives such as Town centre Managers, Association of Consumer Stores and major retailers.

Further work with BIS on shopping and older people
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Ecobuild conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Considerable discussion after presentation with engineers, surveyors and technicians as well as the public

Invitation to other presentations
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Methods for spatial analysis of older people's responses to unfamiliar spaces 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact As built environments change through regeneration, decline and changes in society's

use of space, previously familiar places may become unfamiliar;

unfamiliarity can lead to insecurity, disorientation, fear over personal safety, social

exclusion and loss of independence;

this is important both for individual adults as they age and for those planning spaces

for an ageing demographic structure.

None recorded
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Older people's use of unfamiliar space : implications for urban design and spatial policy 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The focus on older people and their participation in the planning process is not routinely factored into the work of spatial planners. Planning literature includes little on older people's use of space and their access to influencing planning policy and practice. Considering 'age' in planning decision making and policy is a relatively recent phenomenon and generally subsumed under an 'inclusive' design label.

The limited areas in which explicit planning guidelines have been developed are reflected through two themes: first, designing environments for activity and health - guidelines for designing inclusive public spaces which encourage activity, sociability and well-being such as the UK governments focus is on active, sociable living spaces. Secondly, planning for older people and inclusion - guidelines ensuring that the interests and capacities of older people are reflected in the design of public spaces (Lifetime homes: Lifetime neighbourhoods) and spaces with a special significance for older people (a feature of sustainable communities) as well as social exclusion

The diversity of the older population justifies the claim that there can be no well-defined boundary to older people's spatial experience. One of the concentrations in the planning literature has been issue or problem based for example, designing for initiatives to combat problem drinking or youth crime in certain areas. In relation to older people one such issue has been to focus on mobility needs. However increasingly there is a need to view older people and their needs in a variety of different ways, particularly as older people travel as tourists and are increasingly major consumers visiting retail outlets and town centres.

The research reported in this paper explores older people's use of space, particularly comparing 'unfamiliar' with 'familiar' space. The importance of looking at 'unfamiliar' space comes from a number of aspects. Increasingly older people are experiencing unfamiliar environments either through travelling the world as tourists or for some through cognitive decline when the familiar becomes unfamiliar. The research on older people's use of space however has concentrated on the indoor environment of care homes or one's own home. As our urban landscape goes through regeneration and change there is an increasing need to look at the outdoor built as well as natural environment to assess how they meet the needs of an increasing older population. Many urban environments will become unfamiliar and unrecognisable through such changes.

This enables us to highlight particular challenges for planners in addressing the needs of an older population within an inclusive design framework.

Planners discussed the paper online
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011
 
Description Planning for an ageing population 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presented at an Essex Planning Skills Programme workshop.

Follow up on some of the publications from the study
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Planning for an ageing population 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presented at a Norfolk and Suffolk Planning Skills Programme workshop.

follow up on publications
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Technology readiness, technology acceptance and finding out what older adults really want in a navigational tool 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The presentation reports on focus group discussions as part of the OPUS project

General information sharing and discussion
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011