Does Moving to Alternative Housing Mean Creating a New Home?

Sheila Peace 112x112
Dr Sheila Peace
Emeritus Professor of Social Gerontology, The Open University, and a past president of the British Society of Gerontology

The idea of home has diverse cultural meanings.  For many it’s a locational term focusing on housing in a specific place, a neighbourhood, community, city or nation connecting with the concept of homeland. As we get older this definition involves layers of attachment that help to define who we are; the positives of home are personal seen through belonging, security, privacy, familiarity, engagement while sometimes concealing negative concerns of non-decent housing, loneliness, discrimination, limited accessibility, issues of safety through a life of fear or abuse, or worry about being able to manage due to ill health or increasing care needs.

Consideration of the meaning of home is central to understanding more about ageing in the right place; one running theme in my recently published book ‘The Environments of Ageing: Space, Place and Materiality’.  Here I draw upon over 40 years of research in environmental gerontology as well as detailed reviews of the research literature that explore experiences of living in mainstream housing, alternative age-related living environments, care homes, and the wider community.

When asked if they might move in retirement and whether this might include age-related housing, many older people will say they haven’t really thought about it and that they wish to stay in their own homes for ‘as long as possible’. Nevertheless, their stories indicate it has come to mind though not widely discussed.  Listening to people talk about their lives indicates variation in their wish for more age-friendly, accessible environments given changes in health, mobility and emotional attachments.  The interaction between different issues can lead to an environmental ‘tipping point’ that requires action and a need to know what options are available. They may be weighing up - housing assets; on-going maintenance and investment; how environmental barriers need adaptation, the value of more inclusive design; greater comfort versus on-going attachment; reducing social isolation and loneliness; intergenerational or age-related living environments.

Some ‘tipping points’ may be manageable while others need on-going discussion.  Relocation to alternative age-related housing (with care) requires information, communication, motivation, financial and social capital to enable choice in decision-making. A planned decision to move, rather than a crisis move, is more likely to maintain levels of autonomy and well-being and to enable the re-establishment of a sense of home; I say ‘sense of’ as references are still made to former home as ‘home’.

Looking at findings from ten major studies of housing (with care) the experiences of individual (or coupled) daily life gradually includes the communal.  However, this is a more inclusively designed environment where having your own front door and private space is part of a new lifestyle that can afford activity and potential companionship. When people move to age-related settings the need for further support is accepted or denied until needed. There is also recognition that ‘a home for life’ may not be possible owing to increasing levels of frailty for some residents/tenants, particularly through cognitive impairment. Whether living in mainstream housing or age-related housing alternatives, bringing these issues together shows how maintaining a sense of self involves on-going reconstruction of the meaning of home in our later lives. And with the government recently announcing a Housing for Older People Task Force (opens new window), my book provides the necessary background analysis for moving forwards embedding local concerns in national policy that recognise important global issues. 

Sheila’s book, The Environments of Ageing: Space, Place and Materiality (opens new window), is out now and available at 20% discount when you order from Policy Press (opens new window).

And see also the Policy Press Transforming Society blog, Global challenges illuminate our failure to recognise population ageing (opens new window).

If you found this blog of interest, do also have a look at the dedicated pages on housing for older people curated by the Housing LIN.

And lastly, if you would like to find out more about how the Housing LIN can provide you with bespoke support, please email us at: or look at our consultancy page.


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