Matching Personal Living Spaces and Personality: Making Older Adults Happy


As people get older, they spend more time at home as they retire, cut back on their regular activities, have functional restrictions, or prefer periods of solitude. Due to their frequent use, accessibility to guests, or significance, older persons are particularly likely to use personal living spaces. For senior people who live independently and with little parental supervision, providing a secure living environment is essential to preventing accidents from falls.

Furthermore, according to environmental psychologists, these spaces convey identity and are linked to adolescent personality changes. In other words, the room’s overall décor comprises elements that could collectively give people who live in or visit the general area impressions of the room.

On this note, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin investigated whether the design of a living space may express personal identity even in later life, reinforcing the significance of that space for older adults. This study contributed to the body of knowledge understanding theories of environmental gerontology, or the relationships and interactions among older adults and their socio-physical environments.

The Study

The study looked at 286 persons over 65 and was published online in the journal The Gerontologist. They documented the areas of the respondents’ homes where they normally spent the most time (the living room). They discovered that certain facets of each subject’s personality were reflected in key aspects of their interior design. Applying the findings could result in better lives for older persons, particularly those whose frailty or cognitive impairment necessitated their placement in long-term care institutions rather than their homes.

The rooms where participants spent the most time were photographed, and their personalities were assessed. Independent examiners evaluated the images as part of a groundbreaking study, rating the room’s attributes like brightness, cleanliness, and newness.

The study’s participants who report a greater sense of well-being, a better outlook on life, and a better mood are those whose personalities and living spaces fit.

The newness of the goods in the room and the cheeriness of the décor were two additional ways the researchers discovered extraversion was conveyed in the design of the space. According to academics, this may result from an effort to make the room desirable to guests’ relatives and family.

Consciousness was connected to novelty and ease. That personality trait’s essential components, orderliness, and organization, may account for the link.

According to research, not everyone’s room preferences were correlated with agreeableness, openness, and neuroticism. However, the décor for older persons who live alone was open, indicating that people who live with others might not have as much freedom to express their personalities through their home furnishings.

Importantly, older persons reported greater well-being when their living environment matched their personality and interests.

Many older persons want to age in place. Still, as they start to experience functional constraints, such as being unable to walk or climb stairs, their homes start to become outdated, uncomfortable, dark, and cluttered. According to scientists, this could be because older persons have less energy to maintain their surroundings.

Surprisingly, clutter was linked to reduced depressive symptoms in persons with functional limitations. According to the experts, clutter might be an attempt to assert control over the surroundings. They might also want to keep objects nearby to make up for mobility limitations.

This study also implies that although cleaning and upkeep should be done cooperatively, older persons with functional limitations may benefit from a little assistance around the house. An arrangement that seems cluttered to one person could be comfortable for an older person.

As a result, long-term care institutions that give residents more freedom in choosing their room decor could reap the rewards.

In conclusion, this research combines insights from environmental psychology and gerontology to show how older people’s living environments might reflect certain characteristics of their personalities (conscientiousness, extraversion, and openness if they live alone).

Even before a handicap manifests, functional constraints may degrade the quality of the home. Yet, some features of these changes (apparent clutter, for example) may be linked to greater well-being. These characteristics supported the adage that “home is where the heart is” in later life and was visible to outsiders.

Journal Reference

Fingerman, K. L., Kim, Y. K., Zhang, S., Ng, Y. T., & Birditt, K. S. (2021). Late-life in the living room: Room décor, functional limitations, and personality. The Gerontologist, 62(4), 519–529. 

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