Late Life in the Living Room: Room Décor, Functional Limitations, and Personality

Gerontologist. 2022 Apr 20;62(4):519-529. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnab093.


Background and objectives: Environmental gerontology and environmental psychology theories address adaptations of living space for disability and individual preferences. This study combines these perspectives to examine how room décor (i.e., furnishings, design, decoration) corresponds with functional limitations and personality in late life.

Research design and methods: Older adults aged 65 and older (N = 286) completed interviews regarding living arrangements, functional limitations, personality, and depressive symptoms. Participants provided 3-4 photographs of the room where they spend the most time. Raters coded photographs for physical adaptations for functional limitations and 19 features of décor (e.g., crowding, color), fitting 3 categories: (a) newness, (b) comfort, and (c) cheerfulness. We estimated linear regression models to examine how functional limitations or personality are associated with room décor, and whether living arrangement moderates these links. We also assessed whether room décor moderates functional limitations or personality predicting depressive symptoms.

Results: Functional limitations were associated with greater clutter and less brightness. Extraversion was associated with newness and cheerfulness (but not comfort), and conscientiousness with newness and comfort (but not cheerfulness). Openness was associated with more newness and cheerfulness for those who live alone. Moderation models revealed functional limitations were associated with fewer depressive symptoms if the room was more cluttered. Conscientiousness was negatively associated with depressive symptoms when the room was higher on newness or comfort.

Discussion and implications: Findings generally supported environmental psychology and environmental gerontology perspectives and suggest "goodness of fit" between functional abilities, personal desires, and room characteristics may contribute to benefits of aging in place.

Keywords: Aging in place; Environmental gerontology; Home; Interior design; Residence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living / psychology
  • Aged
  • Disabled Persons*
  • Humans
  • Independent Living* / psychology
  • Personality
  • Residence Characteristics