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The Built Environment and Quality of Life of Older Persons

Principal Investigator:

A/P Ng Tze Pin, Gerontology Research Programme, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, Department of Psychological Medicine, NUHS

Samuel Scherer, Department of Medicine, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, NUHS


Research on old-age disability to improve quality of life of older persons must take into account the complex and multi-factorial nature of the disablement process. This includes the living environment as a contextual factor that fundamentally influences physical functioning and disability. Health and functioning limitations result in restrictions of life activities and social participation, but to different extents, depending on the physical environment. Building and land-use designs those are elderly-friendly should reduce the level of disability and promote more mobility and active ageing. There is an emerging field of research in the association of the physical activities and characteristics of urban form, e.g. walkability. The walkability of the residential neighbourhood greatly influences the level of physical mobility and social activity of elderly people. Walkability may be evaluated using objective assessment of the organization of urban form, including residential density, land-use mix and street connectivity/density using geographic information system (GIS) tools and spatial data. Most of the literatures on the association between physical activities and built environment features have focused on low density urban environment and irrespective of ages. Thus the ‘walkability’ study in the Singapore high density urban living environments should infer about the usability of the widely used measures of walkability.


The research has two major parts. The first part focuses on the socio-demographic and physical aspects of ageing population based on subjective data collected from field survey. The second part aims to find the association between the objective GIS measures of built environment characteristics and subjective responses of those ageing people to the questionnaires regarding their surrounding neighbourhood environment. The objective measures include indices comprising of walkability index and accessibility index. The subjective measures include neighbour satisfaction components like the proximate built environment (dwelling units of the study participants) on parameters of safety, security, accessibility, comfort and functionality that promote greater self-reliance and mobility, communication facilities (telephone) for older persons including those with limited mobility, and failing eyesight or impaired hearing. Centre for Sustainable Asian Cities (CSAC) is researching on the second part of this research.


At the preliminary stage, the association of walkability components of a neighbourhood (residential density, land-use mix and street density) with self-reported measure of neighbourhood satisfaction among 400 elderly residents in two residential neighbourhoods in Singapore is investigated. Modified version of Neighbourhood Environment Walkability Scale (NEWS) is used for subjective assessment of built environment quality and ArcGIS10® of ESRI is used for GIS objective analysis along with land use GIS data collected from Singapore Land Authority. The quantitative formula used for walkability components, found in the literatures on physical activities and urban form, are customized for local context.

Result and Discussion

Neighbourhood satisfaction was positively correlated to land-use mix, i.e. presence of dissimilar land uses but negatively correlated to residential density and was not significantly correlated to street density. Thus it can be said that elderly people are more satisfied with their neighbourhood when they are able to move about for varied purposes within the neighbourhood. In urban high density residential neighbourhoods, the availability of amenities and facilities is a positive factor, while over-crowding of residences is a negative factor for active ageing.

Apart from the above results, further analysis will look at the necessity of revising the measurement of ‘walkability index’ for a high density urban environment. In addition, the incumbent study area is very small in respect of other walkability studies. Thus in future walkability should be studied in larger urban area in Singapore to get more meaningful result.

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