Childhood memories, a known and trusted neighbourhood... There are good reasons why people prefer to age at home, in their neighbourhood, their community! Indeed, when you know your home, your neighbours and your neighbourhood well, it is much easier to compensate for the physical and cognitive decline associated with aging.
But what does "place attachment" mean for older adults?
What research tells us
A recent systematic review examined 29 studies on this strong bond that unites older adults to a place, whether it is a house, a park, or a neighbourhood.(1) The results highlighted five dimensions related to "place attachment":
1. Physical attachment
Older adults become attached to environments that are adapted to their realities. A neighbourhood where access to hospitals, parks and other public services is easy and where travel is safe allows them to be independent and participate in community life independently. Older adults are also attached to the configuration of their environment, the landscape and the climate.
2. Social attachment
Social attachment refers to social and collective factors, for example the feeling of safety in the neighbourhood, the composition of the population, opportunities for social engagement, community support and social cohesion. Being able to count on the support of a neighbour, having a relative who lives nearby and having a sense of belonging to the community are aspects that make all the difference.
3. Economic attachment
The economic dimension refers to the material and financial value of a place. Owning your home, no longer having a mortgage, having a paid or voluntary job in your neighbourhood or even having access to key infrastructure (for example, having access to the Internet) can foster attachment.
4. Psychological attachment
The psychological dimension relates to the emotional bonds that are established between the person and the place. For example, people remember happy times associated with their home or pleasant activities in their neighbourhood and with their neighbours. They know the place well and feel in control and confident in this environment.
5. Autobiographical attachment
This dimension includes everything related to the past and present of a person's life. These can be memories and significant events that have taken place, whether it is a marriage, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the closeness of relatives, etc.
What if you have to move?
Loss of autonomy and declining abilities often lead to the decision to move to safer housing where care will be provided. The factors that weigh most in the balance when older adults have to make this decision are social and psychological, not purely practical or economic. Having a better understanding of the range of factors influencing older adults (including the notion of "place attachment") will help relatives and professionals to better support them in the decision-making process.