Professor Susanne Iwarsson manages the research team in Gerontology and Occupational Therapy at Lund University, and is the Director of the Centre for Ageing and Supportive Environments (CASE). The centre is focused on environmental gerontology, with the focus on housing, outdoor environments, public facilities and public transport as supportive environments for older people’s activity and health.
The situation of senior citizens is important in the public debate in Sweden, most often focusing on issues of the quality of care and social services. “While quality of care of course is vital, quality of life is highly dependent on the living environment at large, as elderly people tend to spend most of their time at home and in its close surroundings. It is essential that the standards of daily life in the broadest sense are acceptable, and hence it is not sufficient to focus solely on the provision of care”, Susanne Iwarsson explains.
“There is a lot of research dedicated to medical issues and care provided to the elderly, but so far not much has been done in the area of living environments. The surrounding environment has a great impact on health, which is what we dedicate our research to and work actively to translate into practical measures for those working in health care, housing provision and societal planning in general”.
Comprehensive study in how living standards affect health
Professor Iwarsson coordinated the extensive ENABLE-AGE project, largely funded by the European Commission during 2002 – 2004. The main objective was to study how different aspects of the domestic environment interact with the way very old people perceive their health.
The project involved a total of 1,918 very old people in Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, Hungary and Latvia and consisted of a survey, a qualitative interview study and a review of legislation on service, care and housing for older people.
The survey generated a database containing 1,600 variables concerning objective and subjective aspects of the housing environment and health. Supported by national funding, CASE researchers have followed the Swedish participants during six years, and results based on longitudinal data are underway. Likewise, the colleagues in Germany and Latvia run longitudinal studies on their samples, providing unique possibilities for cross-national studies.
“We have hitherto published 30 scientific papers based on the project, including methodological studies. In this kind of research, it is very important to publish not only core results of the project, but also results based on the experiences and challenges coming up in research on old people’s housing and health which involves more than one country”, Professor Iwarsson clarifies.