Home modifications and disability outcomes: A longitudinal study of older adults living in England

Elsevier, The Lancet Regional Health - Europe, Volume 18, July 2022
Chandola T., Rouxel P.
Background: There is limited evidence on the protective effect of housing modifications on disability outcomes among older adults. We examined whether external and internal housing modifications reduce the risk of a range of disability outcomes among older adults living in England. Methods: We analysed adults aged 60 and over from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, initially recruited in 2002/03. The longitudinal sample consisted of 32,126 repeated observations from 10,459 individuals across 6 waves with an average follow-up of 11·3 years. Participants were asked if their homes had external (widened doorways, ramps, automatic doors, parking and lift) and internal (rails, bathroom/kitchen modifications, chair lift) housing modifications. Mobility impairment was measured through reported difficulties in 10 activities including walking, climbing, getting up, reaching and lifting. Five disability outcomes were analysed (falls in the previous two years, pain, poor self-rated health, no social activities, and moving home within next two years) using two-way fixed effect models, controlling for key risk factors for disability. Findings: Greater mobility impairments increased the probability of falls, pain and poor self-rated health although this effect was significantly moderated by external housing modifications. Among older adults with severe mobility impairments, external housing modifications reduced the probability of falls by 3% (1%-6%), pain by 6% (4%-8%), and poor health by 4% (2%-5%). Moreover, external housing modifications reduced the probability of no social activities by 6% (5%-7%) and moving home by 4% (2%-5%) even among those without any mobility impairments. Internal housing modifications had similar, but less consistent effects on the disability outcomes. Interpretation: There was strong evidence that external housing modifications protected against a range of disability outcomes. Studies on reducing disability in ageing populations need to consider the role of housing modifications as key interventions to promote healthy ageing in place. Funding: Economic and Social Research Council ES/R008930/1 and ES/S012567/1