Work Package 2: Understanding the Homes of Older People

Exploring how older people use their space & what their homes mean to them.

The research in Work Package 2 focuses on learning about older peoples experiences of living in their homes as they age. Our goal is to talk to a diverse group of older people to find out as much as we can about their experiences of living at home as an older person. This will mean reaching out to people from a wide range of backgrounds, who live in a variety of homes, and who have a diverse set of needs and concerns to understand what is important to them.

The three research activities in Work Package 2 is expected to take place across 2022, so don’t hesitate to contact us if you are an older person who wants to learn more or volunteer to take part in one or more of these activities.  

Creative Home Mapping (led by Dr Melanie Lovatt)

What is Creative Mapping?

If I, a social scientist, asked you to take part in a piece of research for a project I was running, its likely you would have some ideas about what I might be asking you to do. You might assume I was going to ask to interview you, for example, or invite you along to a focus group, or hand you a survey or questionnaire about a particular topic and while these are all methods we use as social scientists, they’re not the only tools we have under our belt.

When we talk about creative methods in social science, we’re usually talking about a range of activities that break away from the traditional question-and-answer format of older research methods. There are a lot of reasons to do this, including giving the person taking part more control, and getting a more in depth insight into each persons experience when they talk about their life. Importantly, creative methods often help us capture the experiences of people who find it difficult to sit and take part in a traditional interview for an hour-  such as people living with dementia, people with cognitive impairment, or people who find it difficult to get their thoughts across using words alone.

Creative methods is an umbrella term that can include a wide variety of different activities including using art, music, performance, or technology to create something that helps to explain or explore a particular subject in a way that would not have been possible using speech alone.

What is DesHCA doing?

DesHCA is using a creative mapping method to explore how older people think about, feel about, and use their home. This gives people an opportunity to take part in this activity in a way that works for them and helps capture how they see and feel about their home.

Asking someone to create a creative map means giving them free reign to create something meaningful to them. This might mean sitting down and drawing a top-down map of their home that includes where each room is and how it is laid out, or it might mean taking pictures to create a collage or filming a video as they move from room to room. 

People who volunteer to take part in this research activity will be contacted by a member of the research team to talk about how they might like to create their map, and if they would like the team to send out a pack of paper, pens, and glue to help with the process. 

Once the person has created their map and shared it with the researcher, the team would then contact them to arrange a 1-hour interview to talk about their map and find out about how they use their home. This would include questions about where they like to spend their time when they’re at home and the activities they like to do, as well as questions about whether there are any places in their home that they find difficult to use, or that work less well for them. 

The researcher would then arrange a time to call that person again six months later to invite them to complete another map and interview, to see if they used their home differently in different seasons, or if any changes in their health had impacted how well different areas in their home worked for them.  

Our hope is that reaching out to older people to talk about their experience twice over a six-month period will help us get a better understanding of how older people like to use their homes as well as where they might benefit from supportive design in the future. This will allow us to make sure that the recommendations we make and the tools we develop are geared towards creating homes that people like, rather than good ideas in theory that people wouldn’t want to live in in practice. 

Dementia Friendly IRIDIS Assessments (led by Dr Martin Quirke)

What is IRIDIS?

The IRIDIS app is a tool developed by the Dementia Services Development Centre(DSDC) at the University of Stirling to help people measure how ‘dementia friendly’ their home is.  The app gives users the opportunity to answer simple yes or no questions about different areas in their home, and looks at features like lighting, colour contrast, and noise to make suggestions about how things might be adapted to better support people living with dementia to be comfortable and live well in their own home. 

The app was launched in 2017 as part of a collaboration between the Dementia Services Development Centre and Space Group, both of whom are now working alongside the DesHCA research team to explore how supportive design can help people to live well at home as they get older.

What is DesHCA doing?

DesHCA will support 100 households to complete the IRIDIS survey as part of the project. 

For some people this may mean simply providing information about how to download the app and what username to use to make sure we can see the results. 

Others might prefer to borrow one of DesHCA’s tablets so that they can use the app and complete the audit themselves, or with the help of a friend or family member.

Some people may prefer not to use the app at all, and might choose to answer the IRIDIS questions by phone, with a member of the research team putting the information into the app on the other end. 

These options are equally valuable and allow the DesHCA project to get a solid grasp of how dementia friendly older peoples houses really are. This will allow us to make sure that we are designing our advice and resources in the right way, so that people have the opportunity to access information that is useful to them, when they need it, in a format that works for them.  

Environment and Activity Monitoring using Passive Sensors (led by Dr Martin Quirke)

What is Environment and Activity Monitoring?

So far, most of the work in work package 2 has focused on how people use, experience, and decorate their homes. Both the creative mapping and IRIDIS activities involve talking to people about their houses- but what if we could ‘talk’ to the house itself?

Environment and activity monitoring is a way to understand how the building itself functions, and how people move around it over a longer period of time. 

Environmental monitoring allows us to look at home design from another perspective, and capture factors most people don’t think about, such as how the temperature, light levels, or air quality in the rooms in their home change over the course of days, weeks, or months.

Activity monitoring allows us to capture data about how often different rooms are used, and for how long. These types of sensors use thermal imaging technology to detect if a person or multiple people is in the room or not, but they do not capture images or any information about what someone is doing. This means that every time the sensor collects data it will take a note of factors like light level, temperature and air quality, and a yes or no indicator of if someone is in the room at that time. 

What is DesHCA doing?

DesHCA is working alongside our partners at Space Group to install Portal Beam sensors in 12 houses over the course of 2022. Participants will have the sensors installed for approximately 90 days (around 3 months) each, meaning that we aim to be monitoring 3 houses at any one time throughout the year.

The Portal Beam sensors are a type of ‘passive sensor’, meaning that people who volunteer for this part of the study do not need to worry about interacting with them after they are installed.  Each sensor is about the side of a smoke detector, and is installed on the ceiling in the rooms being monitored.

People who participate in this activity would be contacted by a member of the research team to talk through what the sensors do, how long they would be installed for, and answer any questions that the person would have. A member of the team would then come out and install and test the sensors and arrange a good day to come back and remove them around 90 days later. 

The researcher who installs the sensor will leave some documents explaining the sensors behind for the person to refer to, as well as make sure they know how to contact the research team if they have any more questions or want the sensors removed early.

A member of the research team will check in before the agreed removal date to make sure the day and time still works for the person taking part, before coming out to uninstall the sensors and talk to the participant about how they felt taking part in the research. 

Our goal with this stage of the research is to gather a lot of data from a range of houses over the course of the year to see how peoples homes ‘work’ across different times of day and different seasons, and see if there are any patterns between factors like light, heat, and air quality, and how long or how often people use different rooms. This information can then become part of our discussions around designing supportive homes in the future, and retrofitting existing homes to support older people better on a day to day basis as they age.