Environments of ageing


Focusing primarily on the physical environment (housing, the role of neighbourhoods, infrastructure, old and new technology including assistive devices, transport and the design of age-friendly community environments at large). psychology, occupational therapy, sociology, architecture, social geography, urban planning, health and social policy, technology, engineering and design.

Workstream leaders

University of Heidelberg (Hans –Werner Wahl) and Lund University (Susanne Iwarsson).

About the workstream

Environmental gerontology places special emphasis on deriving an in-depth understanding of the interrelations between ageing persons and the environments they live in, and how these relationships shape quality of life in old age. Environments include the domestic setting, out-of-home areas as well as society at large.

The overarching aim of environmental gerontology is to describe, explain, and modify/optimise the relationship between the ageing person and their physical-social environment. The importance of this for well-being and quality of life in old age has been demonstrated by numerous surveys and stand-alone research projects. In policy terms it is a vital field because of the huge costs associated with poor mobility, falls and loneliness.

Environmental gerontology puts strong emphasis on day-to-day contexts of ageing individuals strengthening the idea that natural settings deserve strong attention in gerontological research. The explanation of behaviour (or development) has remained a major challenge of environmental gerontology and a range of theories have been suggested to address both the objective and subjective processes of ageing individuals interacting with their environments.

The focus on modification and optimisation reflects the aspiration of environmental gerontology to make a substantial and direct contribution to the improvement of quality of life in old age through means of intervention. This links to practical implications in terms of development of social services and health care, e.g. rehabilitation, and societal planning, e.g. accessible housing and public transportation.

Hans-Werner Wahl and Susanne Iwarsson represent current developments of environment gerontology in Europe, based on psychology, occupational therapy, and transport planning and engineering. There is wide consensus that true inter-disciplinarity is required to develop knowledge in this field. Thus, in order to develop this roadmap theme, disciplines such as sociology, architecture, social geography, urban planning, health and social policy, technology, and design all have much to offer and will be invited to take part in this workstream.

The major tasks of this work stream in the production of research priorities for the definitive road-map for ageing research are:

  • Collection and evaluation of the major insights of environmental gerontology world-wide, with particular concern to better understand the many existing linkages between the micro, meso and macro contexts, in which people age.

  • Summary of methodology challenges in the field and evaluation against the current state-of-the-art

  • Systematic testing of the possibilities and potential to make better use of the synergies between the different disciplines all contributing to environmental gerontology.

  • To address the possibilities and complications of cross-country research at a conceptual, empirical, and methodological level

  • To develop linkages with other major areas of ageing research, spelling out possibilities and barriers in mutual understanding and cooperation as explicitly as possible.

  • To systematically strengthen the potential of environmental gerontology and respective communication strategies to inform stakeholders, the applied field, as well as ageing policy at large.

Workshops and reports

Environments of Ageing workshop 1 - Heidelberg, Germany, 4th-5th March 2010

Environments of Ageing workshop 2 - Lund, Sweden,16th-18th June 2010