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Centre for Earth and Environmental Science Research

Older People's Use of Unfamiliar Spaces (OPUS): The mechanisms and strategies used by older people to navigate unfamiliar spaces

Executive Summary
ResearchersProf. N. S. Walford and Mr Edgar Samarasundera (CEESR, Kingston)
Prof. Judith Phillips, Dr Mike Lewis and Dr Mark Del Aguila (Swansea)
Ms Ann Hockey (Anglia Ruskin)
Prof. Nigel Foreman (Middlesex)
Funding Body/SourceUK Research Councils (RCUK) New Dynamics of Ageing Programme
DurationFeb 2008-Jul 2009
Project SummaryThe project will determine the mechanisms and strategies used by older people to navigate unfamiliar spaces as drivers, pedestrians and users of public transport; and will investigate the influences on someone's ability to cope with unfamiliar environments and examine the extent to which they curtail autonomy and independence, and lead to social (and environmental) exclusion. The project will also explore how technologies can assist in enabling older people to adapt to or ameliorate change in their environment.

This project is funded under the UK Research Council's New Dynamics of Ageing Programme with collaborators from a range of disciplines (Gerontology, Spatial Planning and Psychology). Non-academic partners and collaborators include the Welsh Assembly Government, Colchester Borough Council, Castleoak Care Partnerships, Age Concern Cymru, Swansea Network 50+, Swansea U3A, Clinical Research Collaboration Cymru.

The project will involve digital filming of unfamiliar spaces and routes in city centres and villages as a bus passenger, as a car driver and as a pedestrian and these will be displayed in a virtual reality cave. Older people will be asked to give a detailed narrative as they navigate a route. A group of these older people will travel with members of the research team to the area where the filing took place to meet spatial planners in the area and to navigate along the filmed routes previously viewed in the reality cave. By this stage the research team will have developed a demonstrator for GIS/GPS-based system which the older people will be able to try out on the routes to assess its potential for helping older people to adjust to the challenges of unfamiliar spaces.

The practical outcomes will include a standard for clear signage for older people, either through fixed signposting or mobile technologies; learning points on how to ameliorate such changes and improve the ambience of public spaces; and a toolbox of methods for local authorities to involve older people in meaningful discourse on the environment. From the information a demonstrator GIS/GPS based spatial information tool will be developed, which older people will test.

Further details of the OPUS Project are available here.

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