New tool will help older people to rate their community

Researchers at Swansea University have created a simple survey tool which can help older people to rate their community and could be used to plan future residential neighbourhoods that are friendly for all age groups and have a positive impact on health and wellbeing.

OPERAT researchThe Older Peoples External Residential Assessment Tool (OPERAT) has been formulated by Professor Vanessa Burholt, Dr Charles Musselwhite and Dr Matthew Roberts from the Centre for Innovative Ageing as part of a research project funded by Health and Care Research Wales and published in Biomed Central.  This new, effective observational environment measure takes the form of a simple questionnaire which can be used to assess the suitability of residential areas for older people with different physical and cognitive capacities, living in both rural and urban areas.

The research team developed the tool to help plan for developing age-friendly and dementia supportive communities to respond to the ageing UK population¹ as existing research shows that there is well established link between the external environment and health and wellbeing.

Dr Charles Musselwhite said: “People living in attractive environments can experience psychological wellbeing due to decreased tension, anger and depression whereas in areas where there is litter, graffiti, crime or fear of crime, people can experience stress and are at risk of reduced physical activity and social isolation which in turn is linked to poor health. Previous research has also shown that most older people want to ‘age in place’, and so establishing positive living environments are vitally important for the welfare of older people.”  

The research team developed the OPERAT tool assess how much people enjoyed living in their neighbourhood and whether they felt that it was a desirable place to live and if they felt safe either in the day or night, to help local authorities to plan such environments in the future.  It is hoped that older people from a variety of backgrounds can use the tool themselves but also that planners and designers might also use the tool to help ascertain how age friendly their local communities are.

The tool encourages participants to assess their neighbourhood under four main themes:

  • Natural elements - which assesses green areas and landscaping
  • Incivilities and nuisance – which rates levels of neglect and deterioration
  • Navigation and mobility – which considers  how easily people can travel around the area
  • Territorial functioning -  which evaluates if the residents have a personal investment in their neighbourhood

Professor Burholt said: “We feel that the OPERAT tool can make a positive contribution to planning our communities in the future. We live in a society that is ageing and this has resulted in specific housing and community needs. As external environment influences health and wellbeing, having good quality living environments that benefit those who live in them it is so very important and there is a need for public policies to respond to this in order to support community living by developing age friendly and dementia supportive communities.”

OPERAT can be found here

1The UK population is projected to become more aged with the proportion of people aged 65 year old or older increasing from 17% in 2010 to 23% in 2035. In the 27 EU states, the proportion of people aged 65 years old or older will increase from 16% in 2010 to 24% in 2035. Source: Office of National Statistics. Population ageing in the United Kingdom, its constituent countries and the European Union. Office of National Statistics. 2012. http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/mortality-ageing/focus-on-older-people/population-ageing-in-the-united-kingdom-and-europe/rpt-age-uk-eu.html