Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-kw98b Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-03-02T10:37:38.568Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

‘Option recognition’ in later life: variations in ageing in place

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 May 2011

Faculty of Health and Social Care, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.
Faculty of Health and Social Care, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.
Faculty of Social Sciences, London Metropolitan University, London, UK.
Address for correspondence: Sheila M. Peace, Faculty of Health and Social Care, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK. E-mail:


During the 1970s, American gerontologist M. Powell Lawton and colleagues saw the person–environment system as fundamental to defining the quality of later life. They proposed the environmental docility hypothesis that weighed whether the more competent the person, the less dependent they are on environmental circumstances. This work was later advanced to show that environmental pro-activity, including adaptation, could reinforce control and autonomy. While that theoretical development focused on the micro-environment of accommodation, it can be applied to the macro-environment of community living. This paper, which utilises data from an empirical study ‘Environment and Identity in Later Life’, examines both the micro and macro scales, develops the theoretical content of the person-competence model, considers the complexity of person–environment interaction, and argues that over time some people find that their attachments to particular environments are compromised by declining competence or changes in the environment, or both. The point at which change impacts on an individual's independence and wellbeing is reached when adaptive behaviour cannot rebalance the macro- and micro-environmental press. This point, termed ‘option recognition’, leads to a range of strategic responses including: modification of behaviour or environment; structural support using formal and informal services; and relocation; all of which impact on self-identity.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Altman, I. and Low, S. M. (eds)1992. Place Attachment: Human Behaviour and Environment. Volume 12, Plenum, New York.Google Scholar
Carp, F. M. and Carp, A. 1984. A complimentary/congruence model of well-being or mental health for the community elderly. In Altman, I., Lawton, M. P. and Wohwill, J. E. (eds), Elderly People and the Environment: Human Behaviour and Environment. Volume 7, Plenum, New York, 278336.Google Scholar
Clark, H., Dyer, S. and Horwood, J. 1998. ‘That Bit of Help’: The High Value of Low Level Preventative Services for Older People. Policy Press (in association with Community Care magazine and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation), Bristol, UK.Google Scholar
Cvitkovich, Y. and Wister, A. 2003. Bringing in the life course: a modification to Lawton's ecological model of ageing. Hallym International Journal of Ageing, 4, 1, 1529.Google Scholar
Darke, J. 1997. Women and the meaning of home. In Gilroy, R. and Woods, R. (eds), Housing Women. Routledge, London, 1130.Google Scholar
Glaser, B. G. and Strauss, A. 1967. The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Aldine, Chicago.Google Scholar
Golant, S. M. 2003. Conceptualizing time and behaviour in environmental gerontology: a pair of old issues deserving new thought. The Gerontologist, 43, 4, 638–48.Google Scholar
Hanson, J., Kellaher, L. and Rowlands, M. (2001). The Transition from Domesticity to Caring, London: University College London.Google Scholar
Heywood, F., Pate, E., Means, R. and Galvin, J. 1999. Housing Options for Older People (HOOP): Report on a Developmental Project to Refine a Housing Option Appraisal Tool for Use by Older People. Elderly Accommodation Council, London. Available online at [Accessed 10 November 2009].Google Scholar
Hillier, B. and Hanson, J. 1984. The Social Logic of Space. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
Holland, C. 2001. Housing Histories: Older Women's Experience of Home Across the Life Course. Unpublished PhD thesis, Milton Keynes: The Open University.Google Scholar
Johnston, L. and Valentine, G. 1995. Wherever I lay my girlfriend, that's my home: the performance and surveillance of lesbian identities in domestic environments. In Bell, D. and Valentine, G. (eds), Mapping Desire: Geographies of Sexualities. Routledge, New York, 99–113.Google Scholar
Kahana, E. and Kahana, B. 1982. A congruence model of person–environment interaction. In Lawton, M. P., Windley, P. G. and Byerts, T. O. (eds), Aging and Environment: Theoretical Approaches. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 97–121.Google Scholar
Keating, N. C. (ed.)2007. Rural Ageing: A Good Place to Grow Old? Policy Press, Bristol, UK.Google Scholar
Kellaher, L. 2002. Is genuine choice a reality? The range and adequacy of living arrangements available to older people. In Sumner, K. (ed.), Our Homes, Our Lives: Choice in Later Life Living Arrangements. Housing Corporation and Centre for Policy on Ageing, London, 3659.Google Scholar
Kendig, H. 2003. Directions in environmental gerontology: a multidisciplinary field. The Gerontologist, 43, 5, 611–5.Google Scholar
Kleemeier, R. W. 1959. Behaviour and the organization of the bodily and external environment. In Birren, J. E. (ed.), Handbook of Aging and the Individual. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 400–51.Google Scholar
Lawton, M. P. 1980. Environment and Aging. Brooks-Cole, Monterey, California.Google Scholar
Lawton, M. P. 1983. Environment and other determinants of well-being in older people. The Gerontologist, 23, 4, 349–57.Google Scholar
Lawton, M. P. 1985. The elderly in context: perspectives from environmental psychology and gerontology. Environment and Behaviour, 17, 4, 501–19.Google Scholar
Lawton, M. P. 1989. Environmental proactivity in older people. In Bengtson, V. L. and Shaie, K. W. (eds), The Course of Later Life. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 1523.Google Scholar
Lawton, M. P. 1999. Environmental taxonomy: generalisations from research with older adults. In Friedman, S. L. and Wachs, T. D. (eds), Measuring Environment Across the Life Span. American Psychological Association, Washington DC, 91–124.Google Scholar
Lawton, M. P. 2000. Chance and choice make a good life. In Birren, J. and Schroots, J. (eds), A history of geropsychology in autobiography. American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, 185–96.Google Scholar
Lawton, M. P. and Nahemow, L. 1973. Ecology and the aging process. In Eisdorfer, C. and Lawton, M. P. (eds), The Psychology of Adult Development and Aging. American Psychological Association, Washington DC, 619–74.Google Scholar
Lawton, M. P. and Simon, B. B. 1968. The ecology of social relationships in housing for the elderly. The Gerontologist, 8, 2, 108–15.Google Scholar
Lewin, K. 1936. Principles of Topological Psychology. McGraw-Hill, New York.Google Scholar
Madigan, R. and Munro, M. 1999. The More We Are Together: Domestic Space, Gender and Privacy. In Chapman, T. and Hockey, J. (eds), Ideal Homes: Social Change and Domestic Life. Routledge, London, 6172.Google Scholar
Mertens, F. and Wimmers, M. 1987. Life-style of older people: improvement or threat to their health? Ageing & Society, 7, 3, 329–43.Google Scholar
Murray, H. A. 1938. Explorations of Personality. Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
Nahemow, L. 2000. The ecological theory of aging: Powell Lawton's legacy. In Rubinstein, R. L., Moss, M. and Kleban, M. H. (eds), The Many Dimensions of Aging. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 2240.Google Scholar
Oswald, F. and Rowles, G. 2006. Beyond the relocation trauma in old age: new trends in today's elders' residential decisions. In Wahl, H.-W., Tesch-Romer, C. and Hoff, A. (eds), New Dynamics in Old Age: Environmental and Social Perspectives. Baywood, Amityville, New York, 127–52.Google Scholar
Oswald, F. and Wahl, H.-W. 2005. Dimensions of the meaning of home. In Rowles, G. D. and Chaudhury, H. (eds), Coming Home: International Perspectives on Place, Time and Identity in Old Age. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 2146.Google Scholar
Park, R. E., Burgess, E. W. and McKenzie, R. D. 1925. The City. Chicago University Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
Parmlee, P. A. and Lawton, M. 1990. The design of special environments for the aged. In Birren, J. E. and Schaie, K. W. (eds), Handbook of the Psychology of Aging. Third edition, Academic, San Diego, California, 464–88.Google Scholar
Peace, S., Holland, C. and Kellaher, L. 2005 a. Making space for identity. In Andrews, G. A. and Phillips, D. R. (eds), Ageing and Place: Perspectives, Policy and Practice. Routledge, London, 188204.Google Scholar
Peace, S., Holland, C. and Kellaher, L. 2005 b. The influence of neighbourhood and community on well being and identity. In Rowles, G. and Chaudry, H. (eds), Coming Home. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 297316.Google Scholar
Peace, S., Holland, C. and Kellaher, L. 2006. Environment and Identity in Later Life. Open University Press, Maidenhead, UK.Google Scholar
Peace, S., Werner-Wahl, H., Mollenkoph, G. and Oswald, F. 2007. Environment and ageing. In Bond, J., Peace, S., Dittmann-Kohli, F. and Westerhof, G. J. (eds), Ageing in Society: European Perspectives on Gerontology. Sage, London, 209–34.Google Scholar
Percival, J. 2000. Gossip in sheltered housing: its cultural importance and social implications. Ageing & Society, 20, 3, 303–26.Google Scholar
Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU) 2006. Evaluation of the Extra-care Housing Initiative. PSSRU, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK. Available online at [Accessed 10 August 2010].Google Scholar
Rowles, G. D. 1978. Prisoners of Space: Exploring the Geographic Experience of Older People. Westview, Boulder, Colorado.Google Scholar
Rowles, G. D. 1983. Place and personal identity in old age: observations from Appalachia. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 3, 3, 299313.Google Scholar
Rowles, G. D. 2000. Habituation and being in place. Occupational Therapy Journal of Research, 20, supplement, 52S67S.Google Scholar
Rubenstein, R. L. 1989. The home environments of older people: A description of the psycho-social processes linking person to place. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 44, 2, S45–53.Google Scholar
Rubenstein, R. L. and Parmelee, P. 1992. Attachment to place and the representation of the life course by the elderly. In Altman, I. and Low, S. M. (eds), Place Attachment. New York and London: Plenum Press, 139–63.Google Scholar
Rubinstein, R. L. and de Medeiros, K. 2004. Ecology and the aging self. In Wahl, H. W., Scheidt, R. J. and Windley, P. G. (eds), Aging in Context: Socio-physical Environments. Annual Review of Gerontology and Geriatrics 123. Springer Publishing Company, New York, 5984.Google Scholar
Saunders, P. (1990). A Nation of Homeowners. London: Unwin Hyman.Google Scholar
Scharf, T., Phillipson, C. and Smith, A. E. 2005. Multiple Exclusion and Quality of Life Amongst Excluded Older People in Disadvantaged Neighbourhoods. Social Exclusion Unit, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, London.Google Scholar
Strauss, A. 1987. Qualitative Analysis for Social Scientists. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
Strauss, A. and Corbin, J. 1990. Basics of Qualitative Research. Sage, Newbury Park, California.Google Scholar
Tinker, A., Wright, F. and Zelig, H. 1995. Difficult to Let Sheltered Housing. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York, UK.Google Scholar
Toffaleti, C. 1997. The Older Person's Initiative: Giving Older People a Say. Acting Locally to Improve Housing Choices. Greater Manchester Council of Voluntary Organisations, Manchester, UK.Google Scholar
Wenger, G. C. 2009. Childlessness at the end of life: evidence from rural Wales. Ageing and Society, 29, 8, 1243–59.Google Scholar
World Health Organisation 2007. Global Age-friendly Cities: A Guide. World Health Organisation, New York. Available online at [Accessed August 2010].Google Scholar