Home Education Knowledge and Action
The longitudinal investigation of aging adults’ out-of-home mobility, carried out in two German cities over an observation interval of 10 years, provided the opportunity to assess and describe how individual, social, and environmental changes affect older men’s and women’s options of moving about and what effect these changes have on their satisfaction in different mobility-related domains.
One initial key finding is that out-of-home mobility—the opportunity and ability to move about outside one’s home and get to places one wants or needs to go— keeps its remarkable significance as one grows older. Individual statements and the correlation between mobility and subjective evaluations indicate the manifold meanings of out-of-home mobility and, in particular, its positive quality. The meanings include aspects as basic as zest for life, autonomy and freedom, the sense of belonging, and just the pleasure of moving. These results are in line with findings reported in previous research (Banister & Bowling, 2004; Coughlin, 2001; Fernandez-Ballesteros et al, 2001; Holland et al., 2005; Mollenkopf et al., 2006), demonstrating that being able to go out, be active, and meet other people can result in positive feelings. Consequently, we agree with Banister and Bowling (2004), whose view on older people’s travel and quality-of-life issues is wider than that conventionally found in transport research.
The results of the follow-up assessments also correspond with the well- documented risk of declining health and movability with advancing age (Fozard & Gordon-Salant, 2001; Heikkinen et al., 1997; Ketcham & Stelmach, 2001; Spirduso, 1995), conditions that lead to decreasing out-of-home mobility (CERTU, 2001; Marottoli et al., 2000; OECD, 2001; O’Neill & Dobbs, 2004). Study participants reported decreasing mobility and activities in all related domains. The decline in mobility finds expression in the older adults’ subjective evaluation of their possibilities of getting out and about. In general, their satisfaction with possibilities for general mobility and with their opportunities to pursue leisure activities and travel over the 10-year interval is high, albeit with substantial individual differences. Moreover, subjective evaluations decreased in the total group among the persons aged 75 years or older, and in particular among individuals with mobility impairments in the third assessment. Women showed slightly lower satisfaction scores than men with respect to most of the domain-specific aspects of mobility, perhaps because of the fact that, among the present generations of older people, basic preconditions of mobility are generally more favorable for the “young” old and for men (e.g., Banister & Bowling, 2004; ECMT, 2000; Rosenbloom, 2004; Siren & Hakamies-Blomqvist, 2004). However, the general decline of out-of-home mobility over the 10-year interval was similar.
The development of satisfaction with public transport differs from this general pattern—it increases among all subgroups except for the users whose mobility had become worse between the second and third assessment. This positive appraisal can be explained in part by real improvements in the local transport systems of the cities under study. Moreover, if the nearest stop is within easy reach, the vehicles are easily accessible, and the connections are reliable and cheap, the public modes of transportation can be used as an alternative once previously used modes such as driving a car are no longer possible.
Apart from health decrements, environmental circumstances, including technological deterrents, taxing traffic conditions, and obligations such as caring for a family member, were found to interfere severely with the older adults’ options of venturing out. The effect of such restrictions actually extends over all activities outside the home, so it is no surprise that mobility limitations affected the respondents’ subjective quality of life as well. Although average life satisfaction of the total group remained almost the same over the 10-year interval, individuals whose mobility had worsened over time were not only markedly less satisfied than their nonimpaired contemporaries with their possibilities of being mobile and active but were also less satisfied with life in general. Together with the differential courses of domain-specific satisfaction among individuals whose venturing out was limited due to family obligations, these findings suggest a strong relationship between out- of-home mobility and overall life satisfaction. They also support our view that older adults’ quality of life is largely affected by mobility aspects that promote selfdetermination, flexibility, and the freedom to get where one wants and to do what one wants to do.
The results of our previous European studies (Mollenkopf et al., 2005, 2006) back up this supposition. The most important variable in almost all domain-specific appraisals and satisfaction with life in general was the ability to move about. Moreover, participation in a great diversity of outdoor activities and/or the satisfaction with one’s opportunities to move about and pursue desired activities contributed substantially to both satisfaction with life in general and emotional well-being. Similarly, English studies found that poor morale became increasingly prevalent among older individuals with worsening mobility (Holland et al., 2005).
In addition, the findings can partly qualify the so-called satisfaction paradox, according to which high adaptability of older individuals allows them to maintain a high level of well-being despite unfavorable or aggravating life conditions (Staudinger, 2000). Obviously, such adaptability no longer has this effect if fundamental needs such as the need to be mobile and active are concerned. Means and average numbers are apt to obscure remarkable individual developments and related evaluations. Hence, only a differentiated view that considers the various conditions of older adults’ living circumstances allows for valid statements about their out-of-home mobility. In this respect, the longitudinal perspective of our study and its combination of qualitative and quantitative methods proved particularly useful.
In terms of limitations of this study, it should be stressed that the individuals who were still able and willing to participate in this research after 10 years are a positive selection. Another limitation of this study is that we cannot distinguish the extent to which the findings are attributable to regional conditions. Studies comparing regional differences (e.g., Holland et al., 2005; Mollenkopf et al., 2005, 2006) suggest that a range of mobility factors play an equally important role in older adults’ quality of life under diverging national and regional conditions. At the same time some mobility components showed differential significance depending on the area under observation. This observation points to the necessity of considering regional peculiarities as well as individual aspects in order to fully understand the respective relation between mobility options and quality of life.
The findings confirm what is known from our basic environmental gerontology approach (Wahl & Oswald, 2010; Wahl et al., 2007), that an older individual’s physical, social, and technical resources, as well as the structural resources provided by a region or locality, constitute basic prerequisites for moving about. The strong impact that the ability to pursue fulfilling activities has on the satisfaction with life reflects the importance that a congruence between personal and environmental resources has for an individual’s well-being. At the same time, the respective circumstances seem to be mediated by the subjective evaluation of one’s own possibilities and prevailing environmental conditions.
We believe that our findings have relevance for policy measures and further research alike. On the one hand, more detailed knowledge is necessary to improve the understanding of the nature, meaning, and significance of specific aspects of out-of-home mobility for older adults’ quality of life. In this respect, compiling sociological, behavioral, and transportation approaches could provide further insights. On the other hand, the available data already show how crucial it is to promote the mobility of older adults as a means of enabling them to take part in meaningful activities at locations outside their homes through various structural, technological, and social measures of prevention and support in order to maintain their quality of life and well-being.
Acknowledgment We thank the Eugen-Otto-Butz Foundation, Germany (www.butz-stiftung. de), which was kind enough to provide the funding for the second follow-up in 2005 and, hence, the long-term perspective of this study.
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