How did we get there? Supporting older adults’ spatial orientation within the built environment.
Authors: O'Malley, M.
Older adults exhibit marked declines in navigation skills; these difficulties become worse if individuals are showing early signs of cognitive impairment, which often results in disorientation, particularly in unfamiliar environments. Many of these individuals eventually face the challenge of having to learn their way around new surroundings e.g. with potential increased visits to hospitals or when moving into retirement housing or care-home environments. This PhD thesis aims to develop a clearer understanding of older adults’ route learning and route knowledge when learning routes through built environments. To gain a more complete understanding of the experiences typical and early atypical ageing adults encounter, I adopted a mixed- methods approach. Chapters 3, 4 and 8 report on data following a quantitative experimental psychology approach to measure route learning and route knowledge in virtual and real environments, whilst Chapters 6 and 7 report on data using a qualitative approach to data collection and analysis to gain an understanding of the lived orientation experiences people living in and visiting retirement settings encounter. The findings from the data chapters are discussed in relation to existing theory and literature surrounding the effects that typical and early atypical ageing has on the abilities to learn and remember routes. In particular this thesis contributes towards the understanding of how typical and atypical ageing affects route learning and route knowledge, and how the findings can be applied to critically improve the suggestions made in dementia friendly design guidelines. The thesis concludes that simplistic VR environments do reliably capture real world navigation performance, but are additionally beneficial in that they detect the earliest symptoms of early atypical ageing more so than real world navigation. This can have benefits in detecting and diagnosing early atypical ageing in a clinical setting.