Accessibility of the residential environment: Its influence on the depressive symptoms of older adults

Date of Completion

January 2010


Gerontology|Environmental Health|Health Sciences, Aging|Psychology, Clinical




As people age, a supportive and accessible environment becomes more salient in the face of declining functional capacity. Whereas past research supports a relationship between residential environment and well-being, few studies have focused on the specific relationship between the accessibility of the home and mental health. The purpose of the present study is to examine the influence of barrier-free/accessible features in the home on elderly individuals' depressive symptoms, when they experience difficulty with activities of daily living. The barrier-free/accessible features that are investigated include: ramps, railings, wheelchair modifications, grab bars, shower seats and call devices. This study uses data products distributed by the RAND Corporation, based on the 2006 wave of the Health and Retirement Study. The analytic procedures are divided into three parts. In the first place, descriptive analyses were conducted, including independent sample t-tests. These analyses served the purpose of examining differences between key groups within the sample (ethnic group comparisons, and comparisons between senior housing residents and non-senior housing residents). In the second place, hierarchical multiple regression analyses were conducted to examine the features of the home as predictors of depressive symptoms, after controlling for difficulty with ADLs, and various socio-demographic variables. In the third place, the main purpose of the present study was to test the influence of the residential environment on depressive symptoms through a structural regression (SR) model, using Structural Equation Modeling. The model contains functional impairment as a mediator, while age, income, education, gender, and living arrangement function as exogenous variables. Overall, results provide support for the hypothesized model. Findings suggest that accessible dimensions of the physical environment can contribute to psychological well-being by playing a compensatory or assistive role and meeting the individuals' functional needs. ^