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Meaningful Mobility: a novel approach to movement within and between places in later life

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MeaningfulMobility (Meaningful Mobility: a novel approach to movement within and between places in later life)

Reporting period: 2020-10-01 to 2022-03-31

Meaningful Mobility: A novel approach to movement within and between places in later life

Mobility or physical movement contributes to health and well-being in later life and is a key issue in gerontological research. Most studies have focused on the contribution of outdoor mobility to active ageing, but physical and cognitive impairments restrict the mobility of many older adults. MeaningfulMobility will take a more comprehensive approach than previous research. It will be the first to connect the capability approach to mobility research to study diversity in movement within and between places by healthy and impaired older adults.
MeaningfulMobility aims to develop and employ an integrative approach to explain mobility practices in later life in relation to well-being. The research objectives are:
1. To compare objectively measured mobility patterns of older adults within and between places, and between impaired and healthy older adults in three socio-cultural contexts;
2. To conduct an in-depth study of the subjective mobility experiences within and between places of impaired and healthy older adults, in three socio-cultural contexts;
3. To use these insights to connect mobility research with the capability approach to gain comprehensive understanding of the diversity in mobility practices in later life in relation to well-being.
An in-depth comparative study will be carried out of three categories of older adults: healthy older adults; older adults with early stage Alzheimer’s; and older stroke survivors in three socio-cultural contexts of the Netherlands, the UK and India. The study will apply an innovative convergent mixed-methods design to measure objective mobility patterns and subjective mobility experiences. Data will be subject to geographic, regression, and thematic analysis, and the findings integrated using advanced grounded visualisation methods. This study has the potential to transform gerontological mobility research and to provide policy inputs on the mobility, well-being and health of our ageing population.
The project has three objectives, to be reached in three subprojects. Most results thus far have been achieved in subproject 2, but the other two subproject have also progressed.

Subproject 1: Comparing objectively measured mobility patterns of older adults within and between places
Most research on mobility patterns in later life has focused on outdoor mobility, or movement between places. Results from the MeaningfulMobility project confirm that older adults spend the majority of their time indoors, or within places. More importantly, our results show that older adults alternate everyday activities with high levels of social interaction, with those requiring high levels of physical movement. Thus, we observed a trade-off relationship between the levels of social interaction and physical movement during everyday activities in later life.

Subproject 2: Conducting an in-depth study of the subjective mobility experiences within and between places
Mobility experiences in later life have mainly considered healthy older adults, and in relation to movement between places. MeaningfulMobility provides first results based on mixed samples of older adults, including both older adults experiencing memory issues and ‘healthy’ older adults, in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. The results show that older adults’ mobility can be vulnerable, not only in the context of their own physical and cognitive health problems, but also in the context of the health problems of people they care for. With regard to caregiver mobility, we found that mobility aspirations are important in understanding the roles that older adults inhabit.
From a subproject carried out during the first COVID-19 lockdown in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, we learnt that older adults are resilient and creative in adapting their daily activities during lockdown, as well as in countering the potentially negative impact of the pandemic. Slowing down, and spending more time at home, were welcomed as a break from often quite busy daily routines.

Subproject 3: Connecting mobility research with the capability approach to gain comprehensive understanding of the diversity in mobility practices in later life in relation to well-being
The first connections between mobility research and the capability approach have been created. In our study on mobility and daily life during the pandemic, we integrated ideas of stillness and the capability approach. Results show that individual agency and contextual factors impact the effects of prolonged periods of stillness during everyday life. Furthermore, using the capability approach has brought the relevance of imagined mobilities in later life to the fore.

Overarching contributions
MeaningfulMobility has also resulted in contributions that reach beyond the immediate focus of its subprojects. The team has engaged in reflections arising from the ethical and data management challenges in the project. That has resulted in recommendations for other researchers in the field about how to conduct (international) research under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as well as about the vulnerabilities of researchers and research participants during the pandemic.

More information about the MeaningfulMobility project can be found on the project webpage: www.rug.nl/meaningfulmobility.
The overarching achievement of the team is their joint creativity, resilience, adaptability and generally positive spirit in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The subproject on mobility experiences and quality of life that was done after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic shows progress beyond the state of the art. It has shown that older adults may struggle during the pandemic, but also how they appreciate and make the most of a challenging situation through savoring prolonged periods of stillness. The studies into mobility experiences have enhanced understandings of the role of individual and contextual factors in indoor and outdoor mobility of different categories of older adults, both healthy and those experiencing memory issues. Furthermore, the subprojects around doing research under the General Data Protection Regulation and the role of research ethics and vulnerabilities of researchers and research participants exemplify the progress that has been made. These take the contribution of the project beyond the discipline of health geography and impact the state of the art of data management and ethical standards in the field of geography and research ethics.

Beyond these concrete results, MeaningfulMobility has developed and applied its innovative mixed-methods approach in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Also, it has used the capability approach in mobility research which is resulting in a more inclusive understanding of mobility and well-being in later life than prevalent perspectives that emphasize active ageing. MeaningfulMobility has foregrounded the indoor mobility patterns of older adults and outlined. Finally, the first recommendations towards age-friendly environments have been drawn up, highlighting the difficulties that older adults with memory problems in particular face when navigating crowded cities.
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