The behavioral ecology of older persons in institutional housing



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With the growing number of relatively healthy and active older persons in our society, there has been a corresponding increase in the demand for institutional housing to meet their needs. Planners and managers of such facilities do not have sufficient objective data about institutional living on which to base programmatic and design decisions. The purpose of this study was to document the everyday behavior of institutionalized older persons in its everyday social and physical contexts. A total of 34 residents were selected from two institutions for the actively retired. In individual interviews conducted at the end of the day, subjects reported their behavioral activities for that day, the places where those activities occurred, and the other persons with whom they interacted. Interviews were scheduled so that data from seven days (a composite week) were obtained for each subject. The findings revealed that the behavioral repertoires of these elderly residents were somewhat docile and restricted in range. Large portions of their daily activities were performed alone, and when socially interactive behaviors occurred, they most often involved other residents. Three institutional settings --the private residential quarters, the dining hall and the central lobby--accounted for all but a small part of the residents' time. Although residents spent almost two thirds of their time in their own rooms, neither social isolation nor behavioral monotony were found there. Institutional size (number of residents) did not appear to have a significant effect on the social participation of residents (e.g., number of activities performed and time spent in social interaction). Other environmental factors, location of residents room and type of setting in which behavior occurred, did exert strong influences on a wide variety of behavior patterns. The daily activities of the residents, the settings they used, and the other people with whom they interacted demonstrated marked similarities across both institutions and different age groups. These ecological data make a contribution to psychology's task of documenting the natural distribution of behavioral phenomena. These data not only provide an objective, quantitative base for making many practical decisions which face environmental designers and agents of behavioral change, but they also add to the general knowledge about aging and behavior.