Enabling Autonomy, Participation, and Well-Being in Old Age: The Home Environment as a Determinant for Healthy Ageing


Project Description

The European project „Enabling Autonomy, Participation and Well-Being in Old Age: The Home Environment as a Determinant for Healthy Ageing” (ENABLE-AGE) that consisted of a longitudinal survey study with 1918 (T1) / 1356 (T2) participants (in Germany 450/322), a qualitative in-depth study with a sub sample of 190 participants (in Germany 40) and an analysis of country-specific social and housing policy was successfully finalised in December 2004. The focus was on the relationship between the home environment and healthy ageing indicators amongst urban community dwelling very old people, aged between 75 and 89 years, living in single households in Sweden, UK, Germany, Hungary and Latvia (Iwarsson et al., 2005; Iwarsson, Wahl & Nygren, 2004; Oswald, Naumann, Schilling & Wahl, 2005; Oswald, Wahl, Naumann, Mollenkopf, & Hieber, 2006). The main aim was to analyse the relationship (1) between objective and subjective aspects of housing in very old age and (2) between the home environment (objective and subjective) and selected aspects of healthy ageing.

ENABLE-AGE give evidence that both objective and subjective housing are related to selected indicators of healthy ageing. However, not the number of barriers in the home environment, but the individual person-environment-fit (accessibility) prove being important for healthy ageing. Additionally, aspects of the meaning of home correlate with selected domains of healthy ageing. Those participants with good accessibility at home (person-environment fit), who perceive their home as useful and valuable and who think that others or fate are only little responsible for their housing situation (external control beliefs), have a better well-being (“environmental mastery”) and suffered less from depressive symptoms. Concerning comparability of relationships between housing and healthy ageing, there is a tendency towards partially comparable patterns, although the level of accessibility, life satisfaction, or depression is different in East versus West-European sites. The findings show that research on housing in old age needs to consider objective and subjective aspects of housing in order to meet the holistic nature of the relationship between the home environment and healthy ageing.

The analysis of the longitudinal data focuses on the identification of barriers in combination with functional impairment that particularly endanger healthy ageing. Hence, the ongoing analysis will help to identify the preventive potential for adaptations in the home environment (in the person, in the home environment, in the person-environment fit). This could be the basis for a much shorter screening instrument which serves to early detect risky person-environment constellations in very old age. As housing practice and application is concerned, the findings can contribute to the maintenance and promotion of independent living in very old age. ENABLE-AGE strives to develop evidence-based recommendations for practitioners and planners in the housing sector. What counts for the future is to ameliorate the assessment for housing as “a key stage for ageing” in order to be able to identify and use preventive adaptation potentials in time. The EN-ABLE-AGE findings highlight that housing is more than perfect amenities and adaptation. Home adaptations need to be “negotiated” in-stead of being prescribed.

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Project Related Publications

  • Iwarsson, S., Wahl, H.-W., Nygren, C., Oswald, F., Sixsmith, A., Sixsmith, J., Széman, Z., Tomsone, S. (2007). Importance of the home environment for healthy aging: Conceptual and methodological background of the ENABLE-AGE Project. The Gerontologist, 47, 78-84.
  • Iwarsson, S., Nygren, C., Oswald, F., Wahl, H.-W., & Tomsone, S. (2006). Environmental barriers and housing accessibility problems over a one-year period in later life in three European countries. Journal of Housing for the Elderly, 20 (3), 23-43.
  • Iwarsson, S., Sixsmith, J., Oswald, F., Wahl, H-W., Nygren, C., Sixsmith, A., Széman, Z., & Tomsone, S. (2005). The ENABLE-AGE Project: Multi-dimensional methodology for European housing research. In: Vestbro, D. U., Hürol, Y. & Wilkinson, N. (Eds.), Methodologies in housing research (pp. 70-90) . Gateshead: The Urban International Press.
  • Iwarsson, S., Wahl, H.-W., & Nygren, C. (2004). Challenges of cross-national housing research with older persons: lessons from the ENABLE-AGE project . European Journal of Ageing, 1 (1), 79-88.
  • Naumann, D.. (2005). Gesellschaftliche Integration und Mitwirkung im Kontext des hohen Alters (Dissertation).
  • Nygren, C., Oswald, F.,, Iwarsson, S., Fänge, A., Sixsmith, J., Schilling, O., Sixsmith, A., Széman, Z., Tomsone, S., Wahl, H.-W. (2007). Relationships between objective and perceived housing in very old age. The Gerontologist, 47, 85-95.
  • Oswald, F., Wahl, H.-W., Schilling, O., Nygren, C., Fänge, A., Sixsmith, A., Sixsmith, J., Széman, S., Tomsone, S., & Iwarsson, S. (2007). Relationships between housing and healthy aging in very old age. The Gerontologist, 47 (1), 96-107.
  • Oswald, F., Wahl, H.-W., Schilling, O., & Iwarsson, S. (2007). Housing-related control beliefs and independence in activities of daily living in very old age. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 14, 33-43.
  • Oswald, F., Schilling, O., Wahl, H.-W., Fänge, A., Sixsmith, J., & Iwarsson, S. (2006). Homeward bound: Introducing a four domain model of perceived housing in very old age. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 26 (3), 187-201.
  • Oswald, F., Wahl, H.-W., Naumann, D., Mollenkopf, H., & Hieber, A. (2006). The Role of the Home Environment in Middle and Late Adulthood. In H.-W. Wahl, H. Brenner, H. Mollenkopf, D. Rothenbacher, & C. Rott (Eds.), The many faces of health, competence and well-being in old age: Integrating Epidemiological, psychological and social perspectives (pp. 7-24) . Heidelberg, Springer.
  • Oswald, F., Naumann, D., Schilling, O., & Wahl, H.-W. (2005). Selbständig wohnen im sehr hohen Alter - Ergebnisse aus dem Projekt ENABLE-AGE. [Independent living in very old age - Findings from the ENABLE-AGE project.] In T. Klie, A. Buhl, H. Entzian, A. Hedtke-Becker, & H. Wallrafen-Dreisow (Eds.), Die Zukunft der gesundheitlichen, sozialen und pflegerischen Versorgung älterer Menschen. [The future of social and health care of older adults.] (pp. 325-335). Frankfurt am Main, Germany: Mabuse.

Project Directorship (PI and Co-PIs)

Scientific Project Staff


  • Europäische Kommission, Förderkennzeichen: QLKGT-2001-00334


  • 01.11.2002 - 31.12.2004
Responsible: Email
Latest Revision: 2014-02-28
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