As people age, the distance they can conveniently travel reduces for a variety of reasons, such as slower driving and walking speeds, and increased use of slower modes of transport. Consequently, many older people spend a great deal of time in their local neighbourhood, shopping locally, using public facilities such as libraries and parks and participating in local social and recreation activities. Through the planning, designing and building of environments that are safe and accessible to older people, local authorities can support older people in continuing to live in their own homes and local communities. Satisfaction with the local area and neighbourhood quality have been identified as key determinants of wellbeing and quality of life among older people (Garin et al., 2014).
Mobility in later life is an important influence on positive ageing, as it helps people to maintain control over their lives, and engage in valued and worthwhile activities outside of the home. A recent study from the US found that the extent of a person’s movement outside their home, neighbourhood and town was an important determinant of physical and mental health (Bentley et al., 2013). Walking is a low-cost, low-impact way of maintaining mobility which provides the added benefit of promoting good health and social connectivity for older people.
However, environmental barriers such as distance, poor quality footpaths and lack of places to rest can reduce the walkability of an area. Current evidence suggest that older adults who live in areas with inadequate lighting, poor street conditions, heavy traffic and poor walkability are more likely to rate their own health as poorer, and report higher levels of disability (Garin et al., 2014). Traffic and safety from traffic have also been linked with wellbeing and quality of life (Garin et al., 2014). In Dublin, the time allocated by pedestrian crossing may also be problematic for older adults, who tend to have a lower average walking speed relative to younger adults (Romero-Ortuno, Cogan, Cunningham, & Kenny, 2009) On the positive side, availability and accessibility of local shopping areas, pedestrian areas and footpaths are linked to increased levels of activity (Michael, Green, & Farquhar, 2011).
Access to driving is important for social inclusion and well-being: driving cessation is associated with increased risk of nursing home entry (Freeman, Gange, Muñoz, & West, 2006) as well as lifestyle losses, including lower life satisfaction, reduced role engagement, and restricted activity patterns (Liddle & McKenna, 2003). In the future growing numbers of older people will want to continue to lead an active life and transport and mobility are key factors in facilitating active ageing (WHO, 2002).
Public spaces that are attractive and have natural environments or natural elements can promote increased physical activity, opportunities for social engagement and increased well-being among users (Sugiyama, Thompson, & Alves, 2009; Sugiyama & Ward Thompson, 2007). Similarly, environments with poorer facilities and fewer or no recreational spaces are associated with a reduction in physical function in older people and lower levels of physical activity (Booth, Owen, Bauman, Clavisi, & Leslie, 2000).
Accessing advice and information is an important part of creating an age-friendly community. Changing functional ability, including age-related impairments in sensory and cognitive function can act as a barrier to accessing information. Accessible information is therefore crucial to ensure older adults are aware of key services and opportunities for social and leisure activities. Information also plays a key role in the management of transitions associated with later life such as securing access to more suitable housing or accessing supports to allow them to continue to live autonomously, making decisions about their own lives as their needs change (Age UK, 2013).