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When mobility makes sense: A qualitative and
longitudinal study of the daily mobility of the
Article in Journal of Environmental Psychology · March 2011
Impact Factor: 2.4 · DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2010.02.007
3 authors, including:
Sébastien Lord
Carole Despres
Université de Montréal
Laval University
All in-text references underlined in blue are linked to publications on ResearchGate,
letting you access and read them immediately.
Available from: Sébastien Lord
Retrieved on: 12 July 2016
Journal of Environmental Psychology 31 (2011) 52e61
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Journal of Environmental Psychology
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jep
When mobility makes sense: A qualitative and longitudinal study of the daily
mobility of the elderly
Sébastien Lord a, *, Carole Després b,1, Thierry Ramadier c, 2
Centre d’Études de Populations, de Pauvreté et de Politiques Socio-Économiques/International Network for Studies in Technology, Environment,
Alternatives, Development (CEPS/INSTEAD), Public Research Center, 44, rue Émile Mark, L-4620 Differdange, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg
School of Architecture, Centre de recherche en aménagement et développement (CRAD), Groupe interdisciplinaire de recherche sur les banlieues (GIRBa),
Faculté d’aménagement, d’architecture et des arts visuels, Édifice du Vieux-Séminaire, bureau SEM-3240, Université Laval, Québec, Canada G1K 7P4
Laboratoire Image, Ville, Environnement, ERL 7230 Université de Strasbourg/CNRS, 3, rue de l’Argonne, 67000 Strasbourg, France
a r t i c l e i n f o
a b s t r a c t
Article history:
Available online 6 March 2010
A majority of North Americans hopes to grow old in the suburbs. This aspiration depends upon their
ability to drive and their access to a car. Because it is essential for everyday travel, car-mobility in the
suburbs is becoming a symbolic goal. The meanings of mobility for elderly will evolve over time, notably
as a result of changes in autonomy. However, the mobility of older adults is mainly understood in terms
of daily trips. Little research has considered the temporal dimension of aging as an evolving process. This
study aimed at understanding with a qualitative and longitudinal perspective how older people stay
(auto-)mobile in their house and their neighborhood against the need to adapt to reduced autonomy and
mobility over time. A group of 22 suburbanites aged from 62 to 89 was interviewed in 1999 and in 2006.
The results show that even if older people succeed in increasing their mobility, they are headed for
inevitable immobility. Among the environmental adaptation strategies that were observed, the constructed behaviors, the dependencies demanding additional supports as well as the social life modulate
different evolving experiences of the city: the shrinking city, the fragmented city, and the city by proxy.
The built environment is at the heart of a complex process in which the adaptation of mobility
contributes to the emergence of new residential experiences.
Ó 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Residential experience
Daily Mobility
Residential mobility
1. Introduction
Suburbs are aging, not only physically but also socially. Indeed, if
the proportion of older adults in Western societies is increasing,
total population numbers attest of their presence everywhere,
including in Post-War suburbs erected during the 1950s and the
1960s (Morin & Fortin, 2008; Morin, Fortin, & Després, 2000).
Conceived and developed for auto-mobile3 families, these neighborhoods are disputed as for their capacity to meet older residents’
everyday needs with regard to a limited access to an automobile or
ability to drive (Dupuy, 1999; Greenwald, 2004; Lord, 2004;
Patterson, 1997) that restricted functional autonomy and reduction
* Corresponding author. Tel.: þ352 58 58 55 312; fax: þ352 58 55 60. .
E-mail addresses: Sebastien.Lord@ceps.lu (Sébastien Lord), Carole.Despres@arc.
ulaval.ca (C. Després), thierry.ramadier@live-cnrs.unistra.fr (T. Ramadier).
Tel.: þ1 418 656 2131×3707; fax: þ1 418 656 2785.
Tel.: þ1 33 3 90 24 09 70; fax: þ1 33 3 90 24 09 50.
Auto-mobility in this article refers to a general usage of the automobile as mode
of transportation.
0272-4944/$ e see front matter Ó 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
in sensory acuity can lead to (Fozard, 2000). This paper is about the
potential problems facing elderly in suburbs.
Research conducted in different parts of the world converges to
say that the vast majority of aged suburbanites wish to live as long
as possible in their “home” (AARP, 2000; Després & Lord, 2002,
2005; Groves & Wilson, 1993). The difficulties of accessing
surrounding areas for their daily activities, as the restrictions of car
use, mainly based on number of accidents as well as sensory losses
functional limitations, rise to different challenges. Among other
complications, access to local amenities, to health services as well
as community-care services are as much a concern for older people
themselves as they are for their care-givers, government-provided
and third-party support home-services. These challenges to one’s
mobility go beyond traveling in the neighborhood or agglomeration. They are related to the capacity of an individual to participate
in social life and to develop or maintain his or her social identity.4
Problems of access to mobility are also related to other population sub-groups,
notably independence-seeking teenagers (Bachiri, 2006).
Sébastien Lord et al. / Journal of Environmental Psychology 31 (2011) 52e61
However, little connections are made between subjective and
objective dimensions of the evolution of daily mobility in old age.
Accordingly, what are the psychosocial impacts for older suburbanites of aging in place? Is their car-dependant mobility infringing
on their freedom to go where they want when they want? How do
they cope with functional or sensorial limitations? Do their relationships to the dwelling and its urban surroundings transform
their meanings and experiences of “home”? This paper attempts to
answer these questions.
2. Mobility in the daily lives of the elderly suburbanites
2.1. Aging and automobile uses
The usage of a car is maintained in relatively old age. European
and North American studies show that older adults today make as
many car trips as the rest of the population (Alsnih & Hensher,
2003; Benlahrech et al., 1998), even more for those aged between
65 and 75 according to statistical reports (Rosenbloom, 2003) and
studies such as those by Hildebrand (2003). In fact, research on
suburban mobility shows the central place held by automobiles in
relatively late life, confirming the structuring impact of urban form
on older people’s daily mobility5 with the very few walking
opportunities, the poor public transportation services, and the high
rate of car ownership.
Nevertheless, certain older adults are more mobile than others.
If older age is directly linked to the capacity of individuals to
maintain their mobility, it does not determine their people action
space6. If transition to very old age drastically reduces the number
of trips made by elders due to significant limitations in autonomy
(Benlarech et al., 1998; Föbker & Grotz, 2006; Mitchell, 2003;
Pochet, 1996; Shunway-Cook et al., 2002; Sterns et al., 2003),
other variables are also important to consider. Higher income and
education are associated with a larger number of daily car trips by
older people (Pochet, 1996). The impact of gender on trip frequency
is less evident. If certain studies show that women are less mobile
within the aging population (Pochet, 1996), the high rate of car
ownership within younger age groups might attenuate the male/
female differences for the next generations (Rosenbloom, 2003).
Alsnih and Hensher (2003) and Whelan et al. (2006) observe that
individual car use, combined with a longer life expectancy and the
feminization of aging is extending the problems of mobility (or
immobility) to very old age. Indeed, a growing number of persons
in later life stages, of which a majority are women, are highly
dependent on vehicular transportation (Dupuis et al., 2007). This is
especially the case of women who do not drive and do not have
their spouse anymore to accompany them on their trips.
2.2. Aging and the meanings of mobility
Qualitative studies show that the possibility of no longer being
able to drive is traumatizing for older adults (Whelan et al., 2006),
particularly for those living in suburbs (Daris, 2003; Lord, 2004; Lord
& Luxembourg, 2006). Coughlin (2001) has observed with focus
groups that being no longer able to drive implies, on the one hand,
fewer outings, a restriction of activities, a reduction of consumption
activities and, on the other, the loss of a privilege, a renunciation of
valuable concerns, frustrations and an infringement on the independence. “The ability to travel freely in the community has not only
Daily mobility refers to daily trips taken by an individual in a habitual
geographical space (Orfeuil, 2002).
Action space refers to the whole places where the activities of an individual
take place on the territory (Dijst, 1999).
a practical meaning but also a strongly emotional meaning; pursuit of
daily activities, for these [elderly], is vital to their perception of being
part of society.” (Coughlin, 2001: 7). Other researches on suburbs,
such as Davison et al. (1993) and Lord (2004), come to similar
conclusions. Senior citizens demonstrate both a desire to drive and
a considerable capacity to adapt their mobility. Ruechel and Mann
(2005) add that the desire to remain motorized for as long as
possible increases with age. Losing one’s auto-mobility is often
equated with losing one’s independence, control, as well as spatial
and temporal autonomy. In the specific context of the suburbs,
driving or being the passenger of a vehicle is associated with a lifestyle that allows for individual choices and freedom of action.
Despite difficulties encountered, travelling by car can be
pleasing and enjoyable for elderly, according to studies undertaken
specifically in suburbs (Davidson et al., 1993; Fortin & Després,
2008; Lord & Luxembourg, 2006). This being said, remaining an
automobile driver requires regular practice from elderly to prevent
losing one’s driving abilities (Daris, 2003; Fortin et al., 2008).
Several strategies for maintaining one’s auto-mobility have been
observed in two studies about elderly suburbanites conducted in
Québec City, Canada, and Aix-en-Provence, France. These strategies
can be classified into four categories: 1) modification of habitual
driving paths, favoring calmer roads over higher traffic routes; 2)
adjustment of driving schedule to avoid traffic and nighttime
driving; 3) substitution of more frequent circuits by those offering
a greater accessibility; and 4) change in consumption behaviors
regarding specific products or services (Lord & Luxembourg, 2006).
Finlayson and Kaufert (2002) have noted a tendency among older
adults of United States to also avoid certain extreme temperatures,
confrontations with social groups or crowds, waiting times, as well
as certain transportation modes. Their relationship to the environment adjusts according to individual and collective experience.
These observations correspond with those of Clément et al. (1998) in
French urban milieus where senior citizens, rather than taking risks,
chose to limit their outings to known places which they perceived as
safe. Aware of their own limitations, they seek environments that are
experienced at once as less stressful and more accessible.
2.3. Representations of the city and of aging
Adaptation strategies among the older adults cannot be examined exclusively from the point of view of their desire to overcome to
different environmental functional obstacles. The daily mobility of
older people also evolves in relation with their social representations. Often more significant than behaviors themselves (Abric,
1994), “[.] social representation is both product and process of
a mental activity by which the individual or a group constructs the
reality, confronts it and gives a specific meaning to it.” (Félonneau,
2003: 149 [Translated from French]). This dialectic process is one
by which individuals associate personal meanings to the tangible
and intangible reality which they experience (Moser & Weiss, 2003).
Research on Quebec City’s suburbs revealed that social representations of aging influence older people’s desire to age in place and
remain auto-mobile (Fortin & Després, 2008; Lord, 2004). Not being
able to drive anymore makes elderly aware of their self-capabilities
and modifies how they are perceived by society (Gardezi et al., 2006;
Parker et al., 2001; Whelan et al., 2006). Clément et al. (1999) as well
as Lord and Luxembourg (2006), note that the positive relationship
to the modes of transportation, especially the automobile, is of
particular importance in this process. The shortening or reduction of
daily trips, or the resignation or the sale of one’s vehicle, attests of
a growing incertitude as to the dangers of a daily use.
In this context, this article aims at understanding the transformation of older adults’ daily mobility, in both its subjective and
objective dimensions. More specifically, this study aimed at:
Sébastien Lord et al. / Journal of Environmental Psychology 31 (2011) 52e61
1) exploring the transformations of the experience and meanings of
daily mobility, more specifically auto-mobility and “home” for
elderly suburbanites; 2) identifying adaptation strategies of daily
mobility with regards to lifestyles.
changes, visible with aging, as well as of their social representations
and personal meanings. This being said, the concept of déprise lacks
theoretical articulation in terms of its link to the spatial dimensions
of geographical contexts.
3. Conceptual framework
3.2. Mobility and lifestyle as objects of attachment
3.1. Aging and the concept of Déprise7
Since the likelihood of loosing access to his or her car is
a constant threat to older adults, it is only appropriate to address
this eventuality in a boarder perspective. “Travel by car is central to
the way people pattern their lives, where they decide to live, how they
develop their social networks, the way they access services, and how
they interact with their communities” (Gardezi et al., 2006: 19). From
this standpoint, auto-mobility encompasses not only the relationship to geographical space and to others, but also the relationship to
oneself. Individuals develop a sense of self-attachment, personal
identity and social differentiation through the relationships they
construct and maintain with daily and ordinary space (Noschis,
1984; Twigger-Ross & Uzzell, 1996). Feldman’s (1996, 1997)
concept of ‘settlement-identity’ most effectively describes this
process. Through ‘settlement-identity’, we understand that individuals seek stability and consistency in their relationship with
geographical space, in its functional and affective dimensions.
The continuity sought by elderly suburbanites, particularly in
relationship to their personal mobility, can be explained as a larger
attachment to their suburban identity. “The desire to maintain the
identity that we have created for ourselves over time is the driving force
that orients activity selection and substitution” (Clément, 2003: 15
[Translated from French]). Between déprise and reprise strategies,
keeping one’s “home” by extending driving capacities allows to
pursue a desired and chosen lifestyle. If several conceptual frameworks on the evolution of elderly-environment relations in old age
have been proposed (Golant, 2003; Kahana, 1982; Lawton,
1998; Rubinstein, 1998), most have been so in the context of
elderly housing. This article proposes to transpose those to the urban
environment and daily mobility. Such an objective requires apprehending the spatial dimensions of déprise in order to explore
changes in mobility strategies within the complexity of residential
experience. Studying mobility in such a way will allow for a contribution to current knowledge of the affective meanings of “home”
(Fogel, 1992; Gurney & Means, 1993; Oswald et al., 2007; Oswald &
Wahl, 2005; Sixsmith & Sixsmith, 1991), which, as Manzo (2005)
observes, are too often addressed in their positive dimensions.
Social gerontology attempts to understand and explain the
individual and collective consequences of aging (Bengston, Burgess,
& Parrott, 1997). Several approaches are structured around the
concept of disengagement (Cumming & Henry, 1961), which
adverse, universal and inevitable character had been nuanced by
the French concept of “déprise” put forward by Clément et al. (1998,
1999) which place the aged person in a proactive and developmental perspective. For the authors, “déprise is achieved by a reorganization of daily life, consisting of either substituting challenging
activities with less troublesome ones or purely and simply giving
up activities (with their associated objects) in order to better “hold
on” to the components of daily life that are deemed essentials. This
reorganization does not necessarily occur as part of a ‘downward
spiral’, nor does it exclude the possibility for ‘improvement’” (Clément
et al., 1999 [Translated from French]).
In many aspects, the concept of déprise echoes the meta-model of
Selection, Optimization, and Compensation (SOC) from Baltes and
Baltes (1990). If it does not include details about individual biological aspects, as the SOC model does, it confronts individuals with
their aging limitations in an active manner, in connection with the
potentialities and constraints of their own environment. “On the one
hand, it is correct that the biological nature of human aging limits more
and more the overall range of possibilities in old age. On the other hand,
however, that adaptive task of the aging individual is to select and
concentrate on those domains that are of high priority and that involve
a convergence of environmental demands and individual motivations,
skills, and biological capacity” (Baltes & Baltes, 1990: 27).
A same individual can simultaneously experience different
kinds of déprise. Aging individuals can abandon specific dimensions
of their daily life and choose to integrate others. They can also be
brought to relearn certain activities, for instance during a period of
rehabilitation; this is called the reprise. The older adult can also see
his or her autonomy seriously compromised, which generates
a dependency. Finally, transmission is another kind of déprise in
which the elderly person passes responsibilities to a descendant.
Through these transitions, older people develop their identity at
their own pace and according to objects both chosen and imposed
within the individual and social context. The déprise can be related
to three systems: the community-based (e.g. intergenerational
cohabitation), mutual aid (e.g. inter- and intra-generational relations) and autonomist in which individuals have access to services
that maintain their autonomy (Clément et al., 1999). The interlacing
of different types of déprise with various relational systems creates
several ways to adjust to aging, with different impact on social uses
and relationships to the city. Finally, the déprise induces behavioral
changes at the spatial level. As observed by Clément et al.: “With
age, urban space becomes increasingly chosen. When we go out, we
now know where we are going: it is less the city in its entirety that is
considered than portions of the city that are more and more accurate”
(1998: 232 [Translated from French]).
Such a conceptual approach has the benefit of linking both
objective and subjective aspects of the elderly-environment relationship. In other words, it allows for the exploration of objective
The Clément’s neologism of “déprise” has been left in French.
4. Methodological framework
4.1. Research context
Following up on interviews conducted with 102 elderly suburbanites in 19998, the researcher contacted the same participants six
years later, in 2006, as part of a doctoral study. The first survey
(1999) part of the dissertation examines residential aspirations
(Lord, in press) of suburbanites and their daily mobility (Lord et al.,
2009a); the second survey (2006) investigates the transformation
of both daily mobility (Lord et al., 2009b) and urban experience
(this article).
4.2. Selection of the participants
Out of the 102 suburbanites owners of single-family detached
houses interviewed in 1999 at an age ranging from 52 to 82, over
These interviews were performed by the Interdisciplinary Research Group on the
Suburbs (GIRBa) as part of the project La Banlieue Revisitée (Fortin et al., 2002).
Sébastien Lord et al. / Journal of Environmental Psychology 31 (2011) 52e61
half (57) agreed to participate in the 2006 survey by answering
a postal questionnaire (11 could not be traced back). The questionnaire was useful to select participants for the follow-up study,
allowing for the updating of information regarding their 1) functional autonomy, 2) residential situation, and 3) objective territorial
mobility. Respondents who refused to answer the questionnaire
were older and their perceived health situation was negative
compared to the one reported by those who accepted. They
mentioned their major reason for refusing as serious health problems. The elderly group surveyed in this follow-up study is thus
composed of individuals in good social and health conditions.
Among the 57 who send back the postal questionnaire, 22
respondents had gone through major changes in terms of functional
autonomy, residential situation or territorial mobility. For this reason,
they were specifically selected for a detailed longitudinal follow-up
on residential experiences evolution (this article). Their level of
functional autonomy was evaluated using the PRISMA-7 index
(Raîche et al., 2007). Ministry of Health and Social Services of Québec
in Canada use this validated questionnaire in order to identify elderly
who are most likely to require community-based support and a more
detailed psycho-metric evaluation.9 Changes in residential situations
considered any modification in the household structure (mortality,
cohabitation, etc.) or residential move between 1999 and 2006. As for
the evaluation of the transformations of participants’ territorial
mobility, it was based on a typology of mobility developed in 1999 and
updated in 2006, and on the regular use of nine types of stores and
services10 in the metropolitan area.11
In relation with the research questions developed in this article,
this in-depth follow-up study aimed at investing the subjective and
temporal dimensions of the relationship to the house, the neighborhood, and the metro area for elderly, in relationship with their
health condition, household characteristics, as well as déprise and
reprise adaptation strategies. This part of the research required
analyzing the discourse of elderly about their daily mobility, their
experiences and meanings of “home” as aging suburbanites.12
4.3. Data collection tools and analysis
Two subsequent interviews were performed at the residence of
the 22 participants between the months of March and May, 2006.
Each interview was based on a sixty item semi-structured questionnaire13 with open-ended questions. Respondents were thus
able to speak freely about their daily trips, their outings and
The tool proposes seven simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions and can be administered
either over telephone or filled out individually. Three ‘yes’ answers are judged as
significant. Nearly a third of respondents identified by PRISMA-7 required some
support according to the functional autonomy measurement system (SMAF).
Grocery, pharmacy, hardware store, medical clinic, gas station, bank, cash
machine, shopping center, and church.
The typology is structured by crossing two mutually exclusive components
calculated using the participants’ mobility uses: 1) dissemination of mobility, and 2)
dispersion of mobility. The intersection of the two components produces a classification of four types: 1) homebounds, 2) neighbors, 3) peregrinators, and 4) hypermobiles. The homebonds possess a small action space containing only a limited
number of frequented places. The neighbors also have a restricted action space, but
one constituted by a larger number of frequented places. The peregrinators and the
hypermobiles possess vaster action spaces, the former concentrating their trips in
a couple of places, the latter distributing them in several locations. For a detailed
presentation of the typology, see Lord et al. (2009a).
If the use of GIS data may have been a facilitator for discussion during interviews, the cost associated with this technique was too high to be used as support in
an integrated investigation strategy. However, a GIS has been developed in the
previous parts of the research specifically interested in elders’ travel patterns
evolution (Lord et al., 2009a, 2009b).
The interviews covered several life situations. The participants did not all
respond to the same questions (e.g. those having moved as opposed to those having
socialization habits, their openness to different modes of transportation, as well as the meanings of car driving and home
ownership. The strategy behind the two interviews was two-fold:
reduce the length of each interview in order to attenuate the
pressure and cognitive stress on participants, particularly those
whose autonomy was limited; establish a feeling of trust in order to
ask questions about difficult situations transitions (dead, sickness,
etc.). The qualitative analysis software SématoÓ was used to assist
coding the interview transcriptions, in accordance with Miles and
Huberman (1984) qualitative analysis principles.
The qualitative analysis of elderly discourse intended at three
objectives: 1) illustrate participants’ typical day in order to identify
changes since 1999, that is, the strategies of déprise and their
impact on daily mobility; 2) reveal the experiences and meanings of
“home” in light of changes in daily mobility during the six year
interval, and with regards to elders’ representations of the city and
of aging; 3) shed light on individual reasons behind territorial
mobility adaptation strategies and qualify the relationship of
elderly to the broader urban environments.
4.4. Profile of participants
From the characteristics of the 22 elderly suburbanites interviewed, three residential profiles emerged: 1) the residential
continuity profile or those who have remained healthy in their 1999
bungalow (n ¼ 12); 2) the partial residential continuity profile or
those suffering from a disease but still living in their 1999
bungalow since 1999 (n ¼ 5); and 3) the residential discontinuity
profile of those having moved to a new residential environment,
either resulting from health problems (n ¼ 3) or from a voluntary
decision not related to health conditions (n ¼ 3). The sample is
composed of 14 men (12 living with a spouse and 2 living alone)
and 8 women (2 living with a spouse and 6 living alone). Only one
woman lost her driver’s license since 1999. Two other participants
did not own a driver’s license as of 1999; one (aged 81) had given it
up before 1999, the other (aged 75) had never own one. For one
other participant (aged 89), even though she still had her driver’s
license in 2006, serious limitations in her autonomy meant that she
was no longer being behind the wheel.
Sorting participants into three age groups shows that limitations
in autonomy are more prevalent among the older group e however
such a small group does not allow to generalize or to expect associations with different dimensions (e.g. marital status, gender, etc.).
None of the eight seniors aged 61e71 (55e64 years in 1999) reported
more than three problems of autonomy, compared to two out of eight
among the 78e81 age group (65e74 years in 1999), and five of the six
persons aged 81 or more (75 or more in 1999). The socio-economic
status of the participants was good and essentially the same as in
1999. Finally, more than half elders had incomes of more than 30 000
CAD$ per year; in the Province of Québec, the average income in 2007
for people over 65 was 22 907 CAD$ (ISQ, 2009).
5. Results14
5.1. The transformations of daily life
5.1.1. Between déprises and new appropriations
The daily life of the 22 elderly suburbanites met for this study is
quite stable. Domestic routines as well as outings and leisure
The interviews were all performed in French. The translator has attempted to
maintain as accurately as possible the dialogue contained in the original transcription while avoiding a significant loss in meaning. The syntax containing
familiar forms of speech has been adapted for an English-speaking audience.
Sébastien Lord et al. / Journal of Environmental Psychology 31 (2011) 52e61
activities are for most of the group the same as in 1999. This
continuity is particularly noticeable when looking at the six
participants who did not experienced major problems in autonomy,
health or the death of their spouse. This being said, the rhythm of
daily activities changes unconsciously: “Life changes, but it’s so
gradual. We don’t realize it.” (female, 81y, no088). With aging, taking
one’s time becomes an obligation. From a longitudinal perspective,
fatigue came out as key-factor affecting the activities that can be
performed. The body is not as mobile as it used to be. The freedom
of choice is critical: “[.] I move more slowly [.] I do it when it suits
me.” (male, 73y, no110). The déprise in domestic tasks that had
already been observed among the oldest participants in 1999 is
a reality that catches up with the youngest members as well. Health
problems or the loss of a spouse do not necessarily motivate
a residential change, which contradicts what several male participants in 1999 anticipated. Indeed, they had envisaged leaving their
bungalow, one-storey detached house, following the death of their
spouse. This was not the case in 2006.
Oddly enough, fatigue, which requires delegating a number of
tasks, frees up time and increases the potential for mobility. This
observation, deducted to the longitudinal follow-up, reveals the
potential impact of functional limitations on increasing territorial
mobility. This new mobility is one of proximity, relaxation, and
health-related for some. For others, trips made by car are increasingly restricted to the neighborhood shopping center. The territory
covered, whether having increased or decreased, provides an
opportunity to get out, even for the most fragile participants whose
movements are centered on the garden and the street. In any case,
the territory is safe, familiar and appreciated. The transformed
mobility over time, however limited, contributes in cheering up
a daily life that otherwise could be boring and helps avoid difficult
Three participants, a male living with a spouse as well as one
male and one female living alone, moved to a place offering services
(an apartment or condominium). Their action space is now
centered on their new neighborhood. The sale of their bungalow
and their move to a more cost effective housing solution provided
them with a great amount of free time. “[Maintenance]. There was
a time when I enjoyed it. Then as I got older, I liked it less. Gradually,
I liked it less and less. [.] Since I’m no longer obligated to do any
maintenance, I can play golf, travel more and do things like that.”
(male, 76y, no099).
Interestingly, none of these three participants imagined themselves settling in a central neighborhood. Their new dwelling is
either situated within their 1999 action space, where they worked
and traveled once, where family members and friends live, or else,
in a new neighborhood that recalls their former one. Having moved
closer but not in the city center by a river, this woman explains,
“[W]here I was born, we lived near the river. We had a cottage on
a lake. Maybe that’s what makes me feel so at home here” (female,
62y, no009). These three participants express a feeling of detachment from their house: “We are not attached sentimentally to the
house.” (male, 76, no099). Their dwelling is perceived as a good,
interchangeable depending on one’s position in life cycle: “It’s just
stuff. There’s a time for each thing in life. I had gotten to that point.
I loved it, having lived there for x number of years of my life, but it was
time for something else” (male, 63y, no086).
The daily life of four participants now living with heart problems, arthritis or another degenerative disease changed considerably since 1999. For two men living with their spouses as well as
a widower and a widow having lost their spouse since 1999, daily
life continues in their house and neighborhood at the price of
continuous adaptation. The longitudinal perspective confirms that
aging at “home” in suburbs means accepting a drastic reduction of
one’s action space, even to the point of confinement. The need for
physical assistance in order to get around is becoming a reality
which highly depends on the care-giving relationship the person
has with their closest relations (spouse, children and friends). In
contrast with the residential aspirations expressed in 1999, these
four participants had visited at least one elderly residence in their
neighborhood. If they see this option as inevitable in the future,
they hope to delay it as long as possible and possibly die in their
house: “[.] I’m staying here. They’ll find me dead in the yard or in the
house” (female, 75y, no006).
Two other participants experienced a critical change in health
following the 1999 interview. Their precarious health situation
provoked drastic changes in their territorial mobility. Already widowed in 1999, the degradation of respective autonomy obliged these
two 89 years old women to move out of their house. Having lost their
driver’s license and no longer able to travel on their own, they were
forced to sell their bungalows. Neither of these two women had
planned for the eventual loss of their car. Their children played
a central role in their move, both pressuring the decision and
choosing their new apartment in retirement-homes outside their
respective neighborhood. Both women remained there one year,
waiting until the lease was over to search on their own for a facility
in their previous neighborhood. Thus they made two moves within
two years simply to relocate themselves within a couple streets of
the family residence in a familiar action space despite the fact that
they are no longer independent. Even though they are both severely
limited in their functional mobility, ending up immobile is part of the
inevitable chain of events leading to full dependency: “[.] my
husband, my summer house, my house, my car. Actually, it’s practically
our life that changes completely” (female, 89y, no057). Basically, the
longitudinal follow-up revealed behaviors that cross-sectional data
could not have predicted or anticipated.
5.1.2. Towards spatial and family proximities
Regular outings decrease as companions drop out: “It was great
when it was the four sisters. We’d spend the afternoon in the stores,
rummaging [.] I loved that, I did. But now we’ve all gotten older. One
of them has passed away, another is ill” (female, 77y, no114). Daily
life is organized around the immediate family, neighbors as well as
colleagues from volunteer organizations, depending on the case.
These contacts become the only ones for those over the age of 70
(14/22). The family, more specifically the children, becomes at the
center of given and received services. Neighbors are also perceived
as security; contact with them remains distant however e “to each
his own”. In accordance with the types of neighboring proximity
observed by Membrado (2003) during the aging process, neighbors
do not replace family caregivers; this being said, their presence can
be reassuring for those who are weak and whose children live
outside of the city.
Receiving guests, even occasionally, becomes difficult and
complicated. Gatherings at the house are reserved for children: “My
children come at least every week. Friends maybe once a month or
once every two months” (male, 66y, no100). For the majority (16/19,
3 participants not having children), at least one child lives in the
residential area. This proximity allows frequent visits, facilitating
care-giving, namely driving the parent around. For three elders
who live in areas with sufficient variety of services, visits that
otherwise would have taken place at “home” had been shifted to
restaurants: “[.] now we have visitors less often at meals, because of
my wife’s abilities. But we’ll go to a restaurant and everyone will meet
here for a drink beforehand.” (male, 79y, no96). These outings,
demanding fewer responsibilities and being less tiring, increased
the daily mobility of those involved.
Amidst these transformative processes observed over the time,
older adults’ desire for independence remains central and influences the strategies used to adapt their daily life and remain
Sébastien Lord et al. / Journal of Environmental Psychology 31 (2011) 52e61
“suburbanite”. Similar to adolescents seeking their independence,
these elderly learn how “to age”: “You have to learn to move about
more slowly. You have to learn how to ask when you need help.
Learning how to wait [.] it is not easy. Yes, when you’re used to doing
everything on your own” (female, 77y, no114). This learning, as one
of many relinquishments, is heavily modulated by social insertion.
In this sense, social bonds are on the one hand trip generators (for
activities and visits) and a source of support for one’s mobility
(carpooling) on the other.
In the aging process, and despite the evolution of spatial
behavior, the automobile continues to be a functional object
strongly associated with independence and autonomy, while the
use of the public transit remains marginal. As in 1999, the automobile brings spontaneously the following words to mind:
“autonomy”, “independence”, “practical”, “useful” and “efficient”,
even for the three participants who do not drive in 2006. The group
strongly shares representations of different urban territory that are
significantly related to North American socio-cultural norms. The
suburbs remain “calm” and “quiet”, representations structured by
individual meanings narrowly associated with safety and in
contrast to those of the downtown. This woman’s expression of
these representations is illustrative: “The downtown is crushing.
Everything is negative in downtown. It’s polluted. It’s difficult. There’s
no parking. Then there are all the old buildings. It’s old and dangerous.”
(female, 68y, no073).
5.2. Aging and the evolving experience of the city
By using longitudinal data, the previous section improved our
knowledge of elderly adaptation strategies of their daily mobility.
This section takes full advantage of these longitudinal data to
examine the residential experience of older suburbanites who saw
their objective territorial mobility modified over the six-year
interval due to health problems, that is 16 out of the 22 respondents, and confront it to those who did not experience that type of
change.15 The analysis thus revealed two situations: 1) one based
on statu quo which allows elders to postpone the necessity to
adapt their residential situation as far in the future as possible
(these were the most mobile individuals in 1999); 2) the other
based on a gradual diminution of mobility (these were the least
mobile individuals in 1999) which called for immediate changes.
The longitudinal analysis indicates that choices e unconscious,
voluntary or forced e made by individuals about their residential
and daily mobility induce urban experiences that are significantly
different from one another.
5.2.1. Postponing the adaptation of mobility
For the most mobile elderly, driving is pleasurable and the use of
automobile remains as important in their life as it was in 1999, the
speed and frequency of trips taken by car express their status as an
active and autonomous individual, in contrast with social representations of aging. None of these six adults brought changes to
their mobility patterns beyond avoiding rush hours and nighttime
The six participants whose mobility increased were not analyzed in depth. The
re-localization of neighborhood facilities to areas outside the old suburbs and the
involvement in social and/or volunteer activities caused changes in mobility
behaviors. These new uses reveal social and spatial behaviors that have arrived in
spite of aging and the growing limitations in autonomy for two of the six cases.
Aging for these participants is continuous and their adaptation to an evolving city
contributes to their suburban identity.
To this group the two women having moved suddenly to a retirement-home
can be added. They had not adapted their mobility uses before the moment of their
relocation and were considered among the more mobile in their group.
These six elderly, all men, speak of cars as a “luxury”, an
“expensive good” that contributes to their suburban identity,
representing much more than their mere territorial independence.
For these elders, getting around by car is a given, a pleasure they
would lose without their driver’s license. They speak of the city as
their neighborhood: “For me, Greater Québec is my neighborhood. It’s
a small city” (male, 67y, no045). Their daily life is such that they
know it would be impossible to go by without a car. Regardless of
their age, they do not consider themselves as “old people”. The word
“aging” suggests a reality that belongs to “someone else”, to those
with health problems or to completely immobile individuals.
5.2.2. Choosing to adapt one’s lifestyle
For the sixteen other elderly met in 2006, daily life and mobility
had to be reorganized. Choosing to adapt called for strategies to
reorganize daily trips in relation to more accessible locations, often
within shorter distances, as well as relying on others to facilitate
travel: “[.] like Sunday, I had an invitation to go play cards. But I no
longer drive at night, so they had to come pick me up” (female, 77y,
no008). These adaptations were already observed in 1999 (Lord &
Luxembourg, 2006). This progressive transition is experienced by
respondents who try to compensate their déprise on domestic tasks
by leisure activities. They begin to accept the reality of aging. For
those, aging means “slowing down” and a “loss of vitality”. These
adaptations, although voluntary, are at times resented with sadness
and nostalgia for the old years: “[.] taking a walk [.] I really
enjoyed that. I was happy doing it but now I’m noticing that I just don’t
have the strength” (male, 85y, no086). Comparing participants’
mobility behaviors and residential situation with their discourse
about the changes they had to go through revealed three types of
urban experience for aging suburbanites. The shrinking city. For three elders who had to move from
their house into an apartment, their action space is now reduced. In
comparison with 1999, their daily mobility is more governed by
spontaneous activities as well as by encounters with others.
Through a reorganization of their consumption activities and
leisure habits in their neighborhood, even for the amenities nearby
the house at walking distance, these elders remained auto-mobile.
The proximity of accessible services comforts them in residential
stability, which was not the case at their previous suburban residence in 1999: “[Eventually losing my driver’s license] wouldn’t be as
bad here [as in the suburbs], because I have more things nearby”
(female, 62y, no009).
For the 11 older suburbanites that were still living in their
bungalow in 2006 despite health changes, aging meant venturing
out less often and prioritizing travels within the close area. If
driving a car is possible and a strongly preferred way to get around,
now it means avoiding situations perceived as unsafe or too
complicated to manage. Going out becomes less important: “[W]e
still go out, but we feel like getting back earlier. [.] By 10:00, I’m
happy to be home.” (female, 81y, no81). As this woman explains,
getting out means circumventing but above all accepting complications: “I don’t go out anymore at night. Because I have cataracts and
glaucoma. So. it’s safer for me, and I suffer less. You’ve got to accept it,
[.] I see well during the day. But at night it’s a bit more. complicated” (female, 77y, no008). The same participant confirmed that
getting around in suburb is still possible, but easier when it is close
by; running errands elsewhere in the city becomes the exception: “I
confine myself to everything nearby in Beauport [her neighborhood]”
(female, 77, no008). In other cases the contraction of the time is
observable with a decreasing frequency of outings within the same
action space. This situation is not perceived negatively since the
visited places remain the same. This being said, driving a car
remains necessary and contributes to the quality of life. Even if
Sébastien Lord et al. / Journal of Environmental Psychology 31 (2011) 52e61
seldom used, the automobile is part of the suburban way of life.
“[The car] has become an obligation. [.] It’s like the telephone and the
television today [.] it’s hard to get by without it” (male, 63y, no086).
In each of these residential and mobility adjustments, driving
remains central in daily activities, despite the eventual difficulty
that driving entails. The fragmented city. Lack of autonomy and functional
mobility cause the fragmentation of urban experience, where only
specific areas of the territory are visited compared to 1999. Two
geographical patterns can be distinguished. The first consists of
linking universally accessible public spaces. Indeed, for two
participants, this has become a necessity. For one man, owning
a handicapped parking permit allows for remaining active and
pursuing desired activities: “It’s great. I go to concerts. We go to about
17e18 concerts a year [.] We get out of the car and we enter
immediately [.] At the grocery store it’s the same thing” (male, 86y,
no085). Catering exclusively to the automobile, the handicapped
parking permit reduces outings to places offering a sufficient
number of handicapped parking spaces. Beyond logic of proximity,
the experience of the city becomes defined by universally accessible locations as much on foot as by car. Neighborhood small
shopping malls, with their numerous parking spaces and reduced
number of customers are particularly attractive to older suburbanites: “Every evening, for years, I go walking inside at the shopping
mall, with other older gentlemen and even women. [.] We are all 80
or older” (male, 84y, no093).
The fragmented city is defined by the routes joining these
universally accessible destinations. These paths are those where
road tension and stress is limited for elderly who choose to
continue driving their car. Itineraries are selected based on traffic
density (basically the streets speed or traffic is reduced), and on
familiarity with their urban, architectural and social characteristics.
Driving the car on these routes contributes to a feeling of security
despite the loss of the sensorial acuity: “[.] once seated in the car, I
feel safe” (male, 84y, no093).
With severe functional mobility problems, the car is often seen
as the last chance for getting around independently in the city. “I no
longer take walks. It’s too dangerous. But we’ll use the car” (male, 84y,
no093). The vehicle also preserves social ties located along accessible paths. This fragmented territory might be reduced to the
immediate neighborhood, and even only the street or the yard. This
84 years old man having particular difficulty moving around
explains: “[.] when I was younger, I went out in the street often for
walks or to chat with neighbors. Now I do it less often. I don’t go far”
(male, 84, no093). Taking a couple steps on one’s property, supervising maintenance work, conversing with neighbors or going out
for fresh air and sun are considered valuable micro-mobilities,
providing ways to stay in touch with the vitality of the neighborhood. These short but regular experiences of public places confirm
elders’ presence and status in their neighborhood.
Choosing to remain in the suburbs led some elders to a situation
of reduced mobility. Visits from relatives, particularly children, are
perceived as an opportunity to get out of the house, even though it
sometimes occurs only a few times a year. The use of canes or
walkers limits the planning of outings. These visits become
opportunities not to be refused, as the previous participant
explains: “If my daughter offers to take me into town, I’m going to
accept. [.] To see the old city, the places of my youth, my teenage
years, my time as a student” (male, 84y, no093). This same comment
also demonstrates how being self-mobile, even briefly, enables
older people the reconnect with an urban area frequented in the
past. The trips supported by mobile caregivers operate nevertheless
under certain conditions. The physical limitations to one’s mobility
should not be overly exposed in the interest of one’s dignity: “I love
going out with someone, but it’s best to go unnoticed” (female, 75y,
Pushed to its extreme limit, the mobility adaptation goes as far
as limiting one’s action space to places outside the “home” chosen
by caregivers whom are themselves limited by their own child
raising and professional responsibilities. Combined, limited outings
and assisted-mobility result in the gradual loss of spatial references
for older suburbanites. If some places regularly frequented remain
familiar both spatially and socially, the interstitial spaces is
increasingly blurred and disjointed, as several interviews witness.
Entire portions of the city are being forgotten or their perception
remains associated with a certain period despite of changes, the
one period when they were mobile and independent. This can be
observed by the use by respondents of street names that have since
changed or the mentioning of business establishments having since
shut their doors. Such dissonance can destabilize the feeling of
being at “home”: “Now everything has changed with the streets [.] I
feel less at home than I used to” (female, 81y, no088). The city by proxy. Aging in suburbs for as long as possible,
even without a vehicle, requires accepting to be immobilized and
a potentially harmful relationship to the “home”. This is the case of
five participants, and will be for several others who will choose to
adapt their mobility over the next couple of years. No longer able to
move in the city reveals one’s incapacities, accepting to be homebound becomes then inevitable: “I’m always in my house and it does
not bother me” (female, 75, no006). Despite this situation,
a “remote” experience of the city remains, brought in by children
and friends visiting and also by the media.
If moving with a walker is a concrete message that the body is
aging, being admitted to an elderly residence is the realization that
one is old: “It’s since I’ve been in [retirement] homes like that, that I’ve
felt older” (female, 89y, no048). Going to the malls, playing sports,
social and cultural activities, and walks are no longer possible: “For
me, it’s over. It’s over. I. I am no longer capable of going for walks on
the sidewalk” (female, 89y, no048). As Mallon (2000) and Caouette
(1995) observed, moving to a retirement-home breaks the affective
relationship to the “home”; our study suggests that reduced
mobility is largely responsible for this. The “home”, where mobilities and activities once converged, now acts as the territorial limits
of daily life.
Moving into a residence within the neighborhood one has
inhabited for long or in a similar neighborhood can help accept
reduced mobility. Indeed, the views from the window act as
remembrance of the daily trips taken during the active life. The
example of residents who had moved into a retirement-home
nearby the location of their previous house reinforces how familiarity with the immediate surroundings is reassuring and contributes to the feeling of still being “at home”: “You know, I moved next
to the same street that I went down I don’t know how many times [.]
it’s my neighborhood [.] I lived there, the Tenth Avenue is nearby [.]
I often dream about my neighborhood. . I visit it in thoughts. I know
almost everyone” (female, 89y, no048).
If the residential experience in a retirement-home is a radical
break with that of the “home”, it offers new possibilities for people
who have important functional limitations. As opposed to aging at
“home”, social relationships are not limited to family members.
They can be enriched by the presence of other residents. In addition
to outings with children for a meal or a visit to the shopping center,
services are offered within the facility. Regaining old or developing
new activities is possible, which was no more possible in the former
house. Going to the library, the cinema, the church or a restaurant
can now occur within the housing complex. A new form of urban
experience is possible: visiting, meeting and receiving friends and
family is possible again, particularly with a restaurant in the facility.
Sébastien Lord et al. / Journal of Environmental Psychology 31 (2011) 52e61
Nevertheless, even if many activities become possible again, the
individuals might not want to take advantage of those; moreover,
they feel labeled as elderly people because of their new housing
6. Discussion
The longitudinal study of the daily mobility of 22 elderly
suburbanites shows that the urban and residential experience of
elderly suburbanites is in general positive, even when independence is threatened. Between 1999 and 2006, the elderly interviewed adapted their outing behaviors, the places regularly visited,
as well as the routes taken to get there. Similarly, their social
relations were modified in order to obtain assistance in specific
daily tasks and trips. Networks of family and friends are central in
this aspect, more than available public and community services.
Older residents’ urban experience is transformed because of
a combination of loss of autonomy, collective representations of
risk, of the city and of aging, and personal meanings and experiences. If some activities are abandoned, others are taken on. The
concept of déprise (Clément, 2003; Clément et al., 1999) helps
distinguish the different types of urban experiences for these aging
suburbanites. These changes led some respondents to more territorial mobility in the city, some to a larger number of trips nearby
the house and others, unless driven by relatives, to “home”
confinement. Seventeen of the 22 elderly people were successful at
using the available environmental and social resources in order to
age in their house. For the five others, adapting meant moving out.
When desired, this option led to residential satisfaction, despite
major changes that sometimes complicated daily routines.
Aging at “home” in the suburbs illustrates the complexity of
the residential experience. The importance of considering the
meanings of “home” and the suburban experiences for the
development of residential options for seniors is a key-issue
outlined by the results of this research. The spatio-temporal
dimensions of urban experience constitute a fundamental
dimension of “home” and society.
In order to understand the meanings and experiences of “home”
for senior citizens we must overcome synchronous portraits that
accounts for the behaviors of the moment and endorse spatiotemporal and longitudinal approaches. Indeed, it is through
evolving physiological, psychological, social and material tensions
that older adults adapt and situate themselves. If living in the
suburbs implies real functional difficulties, namely in relationship
with the dependency on driving, older adults find ways to overcome these difficulties. The déprise over certain activities is
observed, as well as new forms of environmental appropriation.
The logic underlying the adaptation strategies used by older
suburbanites, including the one leading to a relative immobility,
suggests that it is not the likelihood of losing a vehicle, a house or
a neighborhood that older persons fear over the years, but the risk of
seeing their action space shrink. It is that very specific spatiotemporal experience that helps to define who they are in society. If
elderly delay for as long as possible giving up their auto-mobility, it is
not only because they could be obligated to leave their “home”, it is an
attempt to delay their entry into what means ‘aging’, both individually and collectively. In other words, it is not only giving up their
house that is difficult but their freedom to move around in the city,
a specific type of relationship to space (Feldman,1990,1996) that they
are attached to. In an increasingly mobile society with a growing
dependency on cars, these are acting at once as a crutch for limited
body mobility, and a symbol of independence and autonomy.
The relative residential satisfaction observed among older
adults, even those confined to their house, can be explained by
a fundamental strategy for elders to maintain their social identity
and spatial references. By aging at “home”, seniors allow themselves to remain in a familiar environment to which are attached
positive social representations and personal meanings, even
though they have to rearrange their social and spatial activities.
This adaptation process is coherent with a desire to maintain the
identity and affirm their self, whether a couple steps from the front
door or further away. The processes by which identity is defined are
therefore important, especially with regard to daily mobility
(Ramadier, 2006) and residential mobility (Feldman, 1990, 1996).
The case of two participants returning to their original neighborhood following a stay in a retirement-home is indicative in this
aspect. No longer having the possibility to live in an individual
dwelling, they returned to the familiar space of their previous
neighborhood e an action space corresponding to their spatial
identity as much in terms of mobility as of housing. These residential trajectories reinforce the relevance of longitudinal followups for understanding housing strategies in the later years.
Despite transformations in one’s daily mobility, the affective
relationship to “home” observed by Després and Lord (2005)
among the same group of older adults in 1999 remained intact,
even strengthened. Aging in the suburbs allows maintaining
a meaningful relationship with the “home”. Adapting one’s
mobility in a familiar and meaningful place is ultimately easier than
moving into a neighborhood where amenities are plentiful. Seniors
who age at “home” maintain the social-spatial references that have
contributed to defining their identity. This being said, the longitudinal study shows that the adaptation process is also related to
lifestyles, it evolves according to age and autonomy. Indeed, older
persons who shared social-spatial representations and uses in 1999
were found to adapt in similar ways. Also, the less mobile elders in
1999, for instance, found it easier and more natural to adapt than
those who were more mobile.
These results convincingly show that it is possible for elders to
age in the suburbs in a detached house, even with a significant loss
of autonomy. It occurs through a spatial déprise which leads to the
contraction or fragmentation of people’s action space. Under the
effect of a limited and dependent territorial mobility, the city
however might lose its imagibility for elderly. Ultimately, aging in
the suburbs may lead to immobility due to an increasing fragility,
leading inevitably to the experience of the “city by proxy”. This type
of urban experience could force elderly to depend entirely on
others not only for their care but in order to keep social and spatial
ties with broader society.
7. Conclusion
This study traced up the evolution of the relationship to “home”
and the city for 22 older adults living in Post-War suburbs with an
emphasis on daily mobility. It revealed few insurmountable difficulties, even if considerable transformations of typical suburban
social and spatial uses are a sine qua non condition to age at “home”.
This article shows clearly the advances in knowledge about the
experience of mobility in old age, and in a boarder perspective on
elderly-environment relationship. The relevance of exploring seniors’
experience of mobility through time contributes to knowledge on
elders’ travel behaviors put forward by trip patterns analysis.
If the experience of these elderly persons cannot be generalized
for all elderly suburbanites, the evolution of their mobility and its
impact on the residential experiences nevertheless provides several
avenues for discussing the physical and functional adaptation of the
suburbs. More pragmatically, empirical strategy using the individual point of view also points out concrete tracks for interventions on living environments.
Experiences where the “city is shrinking” provide good indicators
of seniors’ preferences in terms of proximity and accessibility.
Sébastien Lord et al. / Journal of Environmental Psychology 31 (2011) 52e61
The portions of the city still used by the older adults whose autonomy
is decreasing are those that contribute most to limiting stress. This
shows that certain suburban sectors serve better than others the
needs and expectations of older citizens whom, for the most part, are
still driving. The specifics of choosing and selecting “pieces of the city”
observed through time deserves more detailed analyses in terms of
morphological, functional and social characteristics, and foster
considerations on the universal accessibility at the urban planning
level (Nasar & Evans-Cowley, 2007).
Inversely, the experience of the “city by proxy” indicates the
suburban model failure to adapt at the same rhythm as its residents
aging (Hare, 1992). First, these results bear witness to the sufficient
economic and social resources upon which seniors can depend, in
addition to maintaining regular interpersonal contacts. Second,
questions must be raised about those for whom these two
resources are nonexistent. Here, the residential experience offered
by retirement-homes proves to be a model functionally adapted for
the elderly person whose autonomy is in decline. This being said,
these facilities are far from what people consider a meaningful
“home”. The followed up residential experiences clearly show that
locating serviced-housing within single-family houses districts
would allow elderly to maintain socio-spatial familiarity with the
neighborhood. Finally, such longitudinal framework strongly
demonstrates the relevance of extending the analysis of the
meanings and experiences of “home” to individual mobility territory in order to understand the dynamic relationships between
aging individuals and there living environment.
This article was made possible by financial supports to the first
author from the Fonds québécois de recherche sur la société et la
culture (FQRSC) (Doctoral Fellowship, 2003e2006), the Social
Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada, the
Research Chair on Territorial Decision-Support, the Interdisciplinary
Research Network on Health and Aging (FORMSAV) from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) (Fellowship, 2004e2005),
as well as the Canadian Association of Gerontology/Association Canadienne de Gérontologie (Donald-Menzie award, 2005e2006).
A special thank is also given to Michael Doyle, candidate to master
degree in architecture, for the article translation from French to
English and to the Indisciplinary Research Group on the Suburbs
(GIRBa) who financed his work.
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Research Theory, Design, and Methods
Walden University
Research Questions and Hypotheses Checklist
Use the following criteria to evaluate an author’s research questions and/or
Look for indications of the following:

Is the research question(s) a logical extension of the purpose of the

Does the research question(s) reflect the best question to address the

Does the research question(s) align with the design of the study?

Does the research question(s) align with the method identified for
collecting data?
If the study is qualitative, does the research question(s) do as follows?

Relate the central question to the qualitative approach

Begin with What or How (not Why)

Focus on a single phenomenon

Use exploratory verbs

Use nondirectional language

Use an open-ended format

Specify the participants and research site
If the study is quantitative:

Do the descriptive questions seek to describe responses to major

Do the inferential questions seek to compare groups or relate variables?

Do the inferential questions follow from a theory?

Are the variables positioned consistently from independent/predictor to
dependent/outcome in the inferential questions?

Is a null and/or alternative hypothesis provided as a predictive statement?
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Research Theory, Design, and Methods
Walden University

Is the hypothesis consistent with its respective research question?

Does the question(s) and/or hypothesis specify the participants and
research site?
If the study is mixed methods, do the research questions and/or hypotheses do
the following?

Include the characteristics of a good qualitative research question (as
listed above)

Include the characteristics of a good quantitative research and/or
hypothesis (as listed above)

Indicate how the researcher will mix or integrate the two approaches of the

Specify the participants and research site

Convey the overall intent of the study that calls for a mixed methods
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Qualitative  Methods:  An  Example  
Qualitative  Methods:  An  Example  
Program  Transcript  
NARRATOR:  Dr.  Sreeroopa  Sarkar’s  research  study  is  an  example  of  qualitative  
research.  Its  design  was  made  particularly  interesting  because  of  cultural  
questions  and  decisions  that  guided  the  design  process.  Listen  as  she  explains.    
SREEROOPA  SARKAR:  Today,  I’m going  to  describe  two  research  studies  that  
myself  and  Dr.  Bonnie  Nastasi  of  Walden  University  have  carried  out  for  
promoting  mental  health  among  the  schoolchildren  in  the  South  Asian  countries  
of  Sri  Lanka  and  India.  These  two  studies  were  formative  in  nature  and  it  aimed  
at  assisting  the  mental  health  needs  of  the  adolescent  school  students  in  these  
two  countries  and  resources  available  to  them  to  deal  with  any  kind  of  mental  
health  issues.    
The  first  study  was  initiated  in  Sri  Lanka.  We  wanted  to  test  the  model  in  a  similar  
culture.  So  as  a  native  of  India,  I  wanted  to  extend  this  study  on  the  model  that  
we  developed  in  Sri  Lanka  and  wanted  to  test  it  in  a  similar  culture  in  the  
neighboring  country  of  India.  We  expected  that  India  and  Sri  Lanka  has  many  
similarities  in  cultures.    
I’d  like  to  share  with  you  why  we  decided  to  carry  out  these  two  studies  in  two  
different  cultures.  We  have  been  involved  in  a  sexual  risk  prevention  project  with  
the  youth  in  Sri  Lanka.  And  during  our  interviews  with  the  young  adults,  many  of  
the  mental  health  issues  that  came  up  such  as  suicide,  alcohol  and  drug  abuse,  
and  so  on-­-­  for  example,  suicide  rate  among  the  adolescents  in  Sri  Lanka  was  
very  high.  That  was  also  the  case  for  adolescents  in  India.    
Sri  Lanka  has  the  highest  rate  of  suicide  in  the  world.  And  the  rate  of  suicide  
among  the  adolescent  population,  particularly  between  the  age  of  15  to  18,  is  
highest  in  India.  We  also  found  out  that  drug  and  alcohol  abuse  is  on  the  rise  in  
both  cultures  and  there  are  also  incidents  of  gang  activities  or  criminal  activities,  
community  violence,  that  were  affecting  the  adolescents  and  the  young  adults  in  
both  countries.    
We  started  looking  into  the  literature  and  we  also  found  that  there  is  very  limited  
emphasis  on  mental  health  issues  in  both  cultures.  There  are  also  very  limited  
resources  available.  For  example,  in  Sri  Lanka,  there  are  only  19  psychiatrists  
available  for  a  population  of  20  million.  There  are  also  misconceptions  as  well  as  
widespread  ignorance  about  mental  illnesses  and  mental  disorders.  And  there  
are  also  cultural  stigmas  about  mental  illnesses  in  both  of  these  cultures.    
In  this  background,  we  decided  to  initiate  our  first  study  in  Sri  Lanka.  And  for  
conceptualizing  mental  health  for  the  purpose  of  our  study,  we  used  three  
theoretical  frameworks.  One  was  Bronfenbrenner’s  ecological  developmental  
framework,  which  emphasizes  on  the  role  of  ecology  in  influencing  a  person’s
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Qualitative  Methods:  An  Example  
development.  We  also  used  personal  and  environmental  factors  model,  which  
emphasizes  the  importance  of  personal  factors  as  well  as  environmental  factors  
in  influencing  a  person’s mental  health.  And  the  third  framework  that  we  have  
used  was  the  primary  prevention  of  mental  illnesses  through  promotion  of  
personal  social  competencies.    
So  based  on  these  theoretical  frameworks,  we  generated  six  major  mental  health  
constructs  or  variables  that  are  related  to  mental  health.  First  was  the  culturally  
valued  personal  and  social  competencies.  The  second  construct  was  social  
stressors  as  viewed  by  the  adolescents  in  that  culture.    
Third  was  what  kind  of  coping  strategies  that  the  youth  utilized  to  deal  with  major  
mental  health  problems  and  stressors.  Fourth  was  what  kind  of  social  resources  
that  are  available  to  the  youth  to  deal  with  mental  illnesses.  Fifth  was  personal  
and  family  history  that  makes  an  individual  vulnerable  to  mental  illnesses.  And  
the  last  was  socialization  practices  and  agents  that  influences  a  person’s
We  realized  that  using  a  qualitative  research  method  would  be  very  effective  in  
this  formative  research  stage.  We  have  decided  to  use  the  ethnographic  
research  tradition  because  we  were  trying  to  understand  mental  health  from  the  
perspective  of  the  people  from  two  different  cultures  which  are  very  different  from  
the  cultures  that  we  see  in  the  United  States.  We  wanted  to  learn  about  the  
culture  from  the  perspective  of  the  people  of  the  culture.  We  wanted  to  get  a  
definition  of  mental  health  as  the  people  from  that  country  defined  it-­-­  how  they  
viewed  mental  health,  how  they  viewed  different  mental  health  problems,  what  
kind  of  attitudes  they  have  toward  mental  health.  So  we  felt  that  ethnographic  
research  method  will  enable  us  to  get  a  very  culture  specific  definition  of  mental  
We  conducted  focus  group  interviews  with  the  schoolchildren.  We  started  with  
open  ended  questions  and  based  on  what  kind  of  responses  we  are  getting-­-­  for  
example  if  they  wanted  to  discuss  a  particular  topic,  we  also  wanted  to  focus  on  
that  particular  topic  and  discuss  it  with  the  children  in  detail.  
I’ll  give  you  an  example.  When  we  were  conducting  interviews  with  them  and  we  
asked  them  about  social  stressors,  many  of  the  children  were  very  vocal  about  
academic  pressure.  And  we  wanted  to  explore  that  issue  in  detail  and  we  asked  
them  more  questions about  academic  pressure.  And  we  found  out  that  there  are  
several  factors  such  as  rigorous  examination  system  in  the  country,  high  level  of  
competition,  parental  pressure  for  academic  achievement,  as  well  as  lack  of  
opportunity  for  identity  creation  were  identified  as  major  stressors  by  the  children.    
Another  example  would  be  when  asking  females  students  about  social  stressors  
in  India  and  Sri  Lanka,  girls  talked  a  lot  about  sexual  harassment  and  molestation  
that  they  encounter  in  everyday  life.  So  we  were  very  interested  and  asked  them  
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Qualitative  Methods:  An  Example  
more  questions  about  that  and  we  wanted  to  discuss  it  in  detail.  We  found  out  the  
girls  are  regularly  teased  by  boys  on  the  streets  and  they’re  also  molested  
frequently  in  the  public  transportation  by  men.  They  identified  that  problem  as  a  
major  social  stressor  for  them.  We  expected  that  the  findings  from  these  studies  
will  help  us  developing  a  culture  specific  survey  questionnaire  and  an  
intervention  tool  that  we  can  use  with  a  larger  population  of  adolescent  students  
in both  of  these  countries.    
I’ll  give  you  some  of  the  examples  of  our  findings.  Some  of  the  characteristics  of  
personal  social  competencies  as  defined  by  the  adolescents  in  that  culture  
included  honesty,  hard  work,  ability  to  balance  between  work  or  play,  and  respect  
for  elders.  Social  stressors  as  viewed  by  the  adolescents  included  poverty,  
academic  pressure,  sexual  harassment,  family  violence,  fights  between  the  
parents,  and  divorce  of  the  parents.  Some  of  the  coping  strategies  that  they  
described  included  crying,  pouting,  isolation,  listening  to  music,  or  seeking  
support  from  family  members,  from  parents,  and  from  friends.  Social  resources  
available  to  the  adolescents  included  seeking  support  from  family,  friends,  or  
seeking  support  from  private  tutors  who  particularly  helped  them  in  their  
academic  needs.  Interestingly,  students  never  discussed  getting  any  kind  of  
support  from  professionals  such  as  psychiatrists  or  psychologists.    
Based  on  our  findings  from  both  of  these  research  studies,  there  are  several  
implications.  First,  the  findings  from  these  studies  suggested  a  strong  need  for  
mental  health  services  for  the  adolescent  school  students  in  both  of  these  
countries.  Secondly,  based  on  the  qualitative  data  as  well  as  our  intervention  
data,  we  expect  to  recommend  to  the  policymakers  of  the  country  several  things.  
We  expect  to  recommend  them  that  they  may  explore  the  opportunity  for  
integrating  personal/social  competency  promotion  or  life  skill  training  to  the  
children  in  the  schools,  such  as  how  to  deal  with  stressors.  It  will  teach  them  
resiliency  or  it  will  teach  them  how  to  seek  support  when  they  are  having  some  
kind  of  mental  health  problems.    
One  of  the  challenges  that  I  personally  had  to  deal  with  while  carrying  out  this  
research  was  keeping  out  my  personal  biases.  I  am  a  native  of  India  and  am  very  
familiar  with  the  culture  of  India  as  well  as  Sri  Lanka.  So  when  I  went  out  there  
and  I  was  carrying  out  interviews,  I  had  to  make  sure  that  my  personal  biases  
doesn’t  interfere  with  data  collection  or  data  interpretation.  And  I  think  that’s
important  for  any  qualitative  researchers  to  remember,  that  we  have  to  be  
careful.  We  have  to  be  aware  of  any  kind  of  personal  biases  that  we  bring  in  with  
ourselves  into  the  research.    
In  closing,  I  would  like  to  say  that,  as we  expected,  qualitative  research  was  
found  very  effective  for  this  particular  study.  We  found  a  very  culture  specific  
definition  of  the  major  mental  health  constructs  that  we  were  looking  into.  And  
based  on  the  definition  of  this  construct,  we  were  successful  in  developing  a  
culture  specific  instrument  for  collecting  data  as  well  as  we  developed  an  
© 2016  Laureate  Education,  Inc.  
Qualitative  Methods:  An  Example  
intervention  program  that  we  implemented  in  Sri  Lanka.  We  hope  to  do  the  same  
in  the  future  in  India  with  the  qualitative  data  that  we  have  collected  there.    
© 2016  Laureate  Education,  Inc.  
Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five
traditions (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.). (2005). The Sage handbook of qualitative
research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Gay, L. R., & Airasian, P. W. (2000). Educational research: Competencies for analysis
and applications (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice-Hall.
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Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage
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Maxwell, J. A. (2005). Qualitative research design: An interactive approach (2nd ed.).
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