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Continuity and Change in Older Adults’ Out-of-Home Mobility Over Ten Years: A Qualitative-Quantitative Approach

Heidrun Mollenkopf, Annette Hieber, and Hans-Werner Wahl

Both the ability and the opportunity to move about constitute essential requisites to older adults’ independent living and societal participation. The ability-that is the fundamental physical capacity-to move is a basic human need and essential to personal health (e.g., Heikkinen et al., 1992; U.S. Department of Transportation, 2003). In that sense, declining mobility has been understood predominantly as a physical health and geriatric issue. For decades, a broad range of research has been conducted to understand, among other things, the increasing decline in mobility performance, including decrements in sensory abilities and sensorimotor integration, loss of motor control and voluntary strength, slowing motor action and speed of processing. shrinking range of motion and flexibility, and decreasing ability to stabilize posture (e.g., Fozard, 2003; Fozard & Gordon-Salant, 2001; Ketcham & Stelmach, 2001; O’Neill & Dobbs, 2004; Owsley, 2004; Spirduso, 1995).

The ability to move about—and by extension to travel—is required to navigate from point A to point B, to seek out places of subjective interest or that are essential to meeting daily material needs, to participate in cultural and recreational activities, and to maintain social relations, familiar habits, and life styles—in short, to live an autonomous life for as long as one’s mental and physical capacities permit one to participate actively in society (Schaie, 2003). At the same time, age-related changes such as physical, cognitive, and/or sensory impairments and social losses may limit older adults’ possibilities of ambulating and venturing out.

A multitude of studies in transportation research have provided rich statistical data on older adults’ actual travel behavior, usually defined as a movement in time

H. Mollenkopf • A. Hieber

German Center for Research on Aging, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany H.-W. Wahl (*)

Institute of Psychology, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2017

P. Meusburger et al. (eds.), Knowledge and Action, Knowledge and Space 9, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-44588-5_15

and space, measured in terms of trips or journeys and reported in standardized diary forms (e.g., Centre d’etudes sur les reseaux, les transports, l’urbanisme et les constructions publiques [CERTU], 2001; Clarke & Sawyers, 2004; European Conference of Ministers of Transport [ECMT], 2000; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2001; Rosenbloom, 2001; Schaie & Pietrucha, 2000; Transportation Research Board [TRB], 1988). It is true that findings differ depending on national peculiarities, but general tendencies and structures correspond in some salient aspects: In general, travel of older adults has clearly increased for about two decades. However, the older individuals are, the less they tend to travel, mainly due to declining health and sensory impairments. Older individuals with a driver’s license and access to a private automobile travel more than those with no car at their disposal. Because the current generation of older women has less education, a lower income, and less likelihood of having a driver’s license than men of the same age, it is not surprising that they use public transportation more than men do, whereas older men use the car more often, take more trips, and travel more miles than older women (see e.g., Banister & Bowling, 2004; ECMT, 2000; Marottoli et al., 1997; Mollenkopf et al., 2002; Owsley, 2002; Rosenbloom, 2004).

Despite the abundant information available from these research strands, the functional approaches to mobility often neglect the key mobility concerns of older adults (Alsnih & Hensher, 2003; Banister & Bowling, 2004; Gabriel & Bowling, 2004; Hildebrand, 2003; Mollenkopf, Marcellini, Ruoppila, & Tacken, 2004a; Schlag & Schade, 2007; Siren & Hakamies-Blomqvist, 2004). The meaning individuals attribute to mobility and their experiences when venturing out are only scarcely assessed. However, mobility can be for its own sake and not just as a derived demand (Mokhtarian, 2005). Case studies conducted in four European cities showed that mobility means much more to older adults than the mere covering of distance (Mollenkopf et al., 2004a). In this context the attraction or deterrence of the natural, social, and built environment can play a crucial role (Banister & Bowling, 2004; Holland et al., 2005). Motivational, cognitive, or personality aspects also play an important role in their decisions to go out. Moreover, in modern society, mobility is associated with highly appreciated goals like freedom, autonomy, and flexibility (Cobb & Coughlin, 2004; Handy, Weston, & Mokhtarian, 2005; Lash & Urry, 1994; Mollenkopf, Marcellini, Ruoppila, Szeman, & Tacken, 2005; Rammler, 2001). Older adults are members of current societies and therefore are affected by these societies’ Zeitgeist, values, and expectations.

Only in recent years has the focus shifted to more subjective and motivational aspects of travel and driving behavior. A series of recent studies showed that older adults’ ability to move about and to pursue outdoor leisure activities contributes significantly to their autonomy, social participation, and subjective quality of life (Banister & Bowling, 2004; Cvitkovich & Wister, 2001; Fernandez-Ballesteros, Zamarron, & Ruiz, 2001; Marottoli et al., 1997; Mollenkopf et al., 2004a; Mollenkopf, Baas, Kaspar, Oswald, & Wahl, 2006; Owsley, 2002; Pochet, 2003). Satisfaction with one’s ability to get around, to pursue leisure activities and to travel were significant determinants of quality of life in a study comparing the impact of subjective appraisal of different life domains on satisfaction with life in general (Mollenkopf et al., 2006). In a study focusing on elderly people’s own definitions of quality of life, Farquhar (1995) found that the ability to go out more was cited as improving quality of life, whereas being housebound detracted from quality of life. Similar findings were reported by Coughlin (2001) with respect to the significance of transportation, albeit mostly related to being able to drive a car. Banister and Bowling (2004) found that a sense of optimism and positive expectations of life constitute a main building block for the transport dimension of older adults’ perceptions of quality of life. Psychological variables such as control beliefs and the individual importance attributed to being out also played a role in characterizing groups of older adults who differed in their out-of-home mobility patterns (Mollenkopf et al., 2004b).

Altogether, these findings offer some evidence that functional necessities, on the one hand, and modern values and individual needs on the other, strongly complement one other. In this chapter we wish to further pursue a comprehensive understanding of older adults’ out-of-home mobility by taking up and integrating the diverging concepts of mobility in an environmental gerontology perspective (Wahl, Mollenkopf, Oswald, & Claus, 2007; Wahl & Oswald, 2010). Proceeding from this approach, which asserts that an individual’s well-being is influenced by how well environmental resources match personal needs, we propose that mobility and related appraisals are determined by personal (health-related and psychological) and socioeconomic factors as well as by environmental (structural) conditions and features of the person-environment interaction. Findings of the European MOBILATE project largely confirmed this fundamental view of mobility in cross-sectional as well as longitudinal analyses over the 5-year observation period from 1995 to 2000 (Mollenkopf et al., 2005).

This chapter presents data based on an extended observational period up to 2005, for a total observation time of 10 years. We assume that during that time the men and women who had participated in the 1995 study might have experienced age- related health impairments, critical social life events (e.g., death of a spouse), and changes in their local environments, all of which can seriously jeopardize the outdoor mobility of the older individual.

The goals of our work are threefold. First, we describe 10-year trajectories in terms of stability and change of various key qualifiers (e.g., satisfaction) of out-ofhome mobility such as out-of-home mobility in general, public transportation, out- of-home leisure activities, and travel. Second, we link and undergird these trajectories with the explicit consideration of meaning imposed on mobility, perceived changes in mobility and perceived reasons for change, as well as satisfaction with life in general. Third, we will explore interindividual differences in stability and change. We strongly believe that only a mix of methods, in other words, qualitative and quantitative, allows these goals to be addressed in a comprehensive manner.

 
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