Envejecimiento · 04 September 2019

Habitats that enhance the quality of life of older people

In order to be able to approach the issue in a novel way, avoiding a traditional gaze, it is first of all necessary to define who and, above all, how, the elderly people in our urban and rural habitats are who are demanding our attention. Each culture creates its own identity as "elders" and that is why the situations are so varied: in our case and culture they are people who could be defined as having different characteristics, since there are those who, even courageously, have remained in their places or villages of origin and others, who have moved to the cities and today, now grown up, wish to be able to maintain their active lives and their favourite hobbies -above all recreational and cultural- without feeling that they are framed in a collective that no longer produces and that what it asks for, is attention to health and wellbeing. In other words, they must be supported in terms of social services. There is a group that is unfortunately independent of its origin or place of residence at present and is that of the elderly who already with cognitive impairment or dementias require very specialized attention.

Although the objective of programmes for the elderly cannot be individualised, it is necessary to define this characterisation in different profiles: what is common and what is not, because it belongs to the specifics of a particular group. But, in short, all people should integrate the group of diversities that social and cultural policies should take into account in order to improve or maintain their quality of life: giving them what is a right, what is best for them and also for their families. 

There is one factor that is common to all: their desire and willingness to continue living in their usual residence, with the family until this is possible. Hence the various alternatives and responses that each case suggests in terms of solutions and responses for the city, in the surroundings of the housing and through the corresponding social facilities.

The elderly and the city

The resources offered by the city or by the most populated urban areas are very important factors -determining in some cases- to give satisfaction to health, recreation, culture and leisure. But the speed of everyday life can be an adverse factor from that moment when some registers begin to fail that are required to tolerate noise and the accumulation of visual stimuli. That is why the return that urban spaces should make to this generation is a sample of alternatives, where they could isolate themselves -although this is fictitious- from hustle and bustle, but where they can also share spaces with other companies: green zones must contain zones of silence and designs that awaken the senses, they must have cozy corners, whose characteristic is the sensory to be able to enjoy the reading or simply the contemplation of birds, water and the colors of vegetation. But it is necessary -immissable- to incorporate dynamism so that the registers in key of tranquillity do not end up diminishing the intellectual, cognitive capacities. The presence of children's play areas is absolutely necessary in order to establish an intergenerational relationship between adults and children with what this means for the objectives of both: play, companionship, learning....

Smaller urban centres often offer fewer formal activities but informal ones more than fill the affective life of the most vulnerable groups, which is not the case in other cases: health and recreation.

Spatial quality in day centres

Day centres are a good solution for staying in your own home and carrying out, in an important part of the day, a variety of activities linked to the maintenance of energy, physical and cognitive: walking, walking, climbing, going down, observing, commenting, could contribute to reducing stress in people who are in some day centres, sitting too many hours in workshops or watching TV. Activities that, related to an enriched environment and sensory calls in the common spaces (reading, cinema and theatre), would favour neurological activation with little effort, only inducing them to mobilise, even with support, between the common spaces. The coordinated movement of body parts and proper body alignment promote the proper functioning of the various systems of the body, especially the nervous system which is responsible, among other things, to create the necessary processes to produce movement.   

Enriched environments are not only important in childhood. Older people who are already withdrawn, or who are confined in residences or centres where they spend the whole day, improve their responses. It seems demonstrated that this type of environment is effective in improving spatial memory and adopting more effective strategies in their executive functions. As stated (Baldanzi, et al., 2013) there are variations in cortical activation, because this condition can contribute to the consolidation of remote spatial memory. 

An interesting study has shown "that those participants belonging to an environment rich in cognitive stimulation obtained better performance in tasks related to memory and general cognitive functions. On the other hand, subjects who do not have a level of formal education in their environment, but are exposed to activities of daily living, also performed well. Finally, adults exposed only to socio-affective stimulation showed the lowest score demonstrating that constant cognitive stimulation can still have a direct impact on the plasticity of the aging brain. It is suggested that "older adults who lead intellectual challenges, physical resources and intellectual commitments can mitigate some cognitive losses associated with the cognitive aging process, thanks to the protective factor generated by environmental stimulation". 

In line with the above ideas, a moderating environment, capable of "gathering" people contains, tranquilizes, acts mobilizing emotional structures: almost always the user is able to interact with him.  They are places with few stimuli: those necessary to create corners and guide people, without words, saying how to move and where they should go when they are looking for a goal.

Identity and functional unity delimiting environmental zones define spaces rich in stimuli and sensory reading to enjoy what they have around them. They favor tranquility, containment, facilitating the accomplishment of their more or less daily tasks. Or those that for family reasons or loneliness had been abandoned, an important factor for the elderly to feel good.

The home

Staying in your home is the best solution to continue your cycle until it closes naturally. But it should always be this way when there is support to avoid that loneliness is not the only company of people between its four walls: solving it with technology has its pros. But also its cons.

Under the framework of: Programa Operativo Cooperación Transfronteriza España-Portugal
Sponsors: Fundación General de la Universidad de Salamanca Fundación del Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas Direção Geral da Saúde - Portugal Universidad del Algarve - Portugal