Some of the earliest geographical research, which engaged with older peoples' changing relationships with environments, drew heavily on environmental psychology published in the 1960s and 1970s, and in particular on the pathbreaking work of gerontologist Powel Lawton. Lawton's ecological theory of aging was most famously articulated through his environmental docility hypothesis (also associated with terms such as aging and adaptation). Here older people are thought to adapt their behaviors to cope with the increasing challenges that negotiating the environment poses with increasing age (what is known as environmental press). Although these ideas provided popular frameworks for research for many years, along with psychologists, over time geographers began to question the assumption that older people assume a passive role in such adaptation. Following amendments to the theory forwarded by Lawton himself in the 1980s, geographers have begun to research and articulate older peoples proactivity in adaptive responses, specifically how older people use their environments as a valuable resource in their lives and experience and ap proach them positively.
Developing these early considerations of environment, geographers have focused on many aspects of living environments from the scale of local communities to the scale of very specific forms of residential accommodation. In particular, one line of research asks how specific environments – whether they be a dwelling, urban neighborhood, or rural area – can be enabling or disabling. Much of this work is based on qualitative methodologies, and presents a rich and critical understanding of peoples' lives lived in, and through, places. With regard to rural living, research has focused on many everyday issues related to housing, transport, and broader socioeconomic change. With regard to urban living, research has focused on the design and negotiation of public spaces and facilities. Indeed, the various obstacles associated with negotiating urban life in older age are argued to include poor access to public transport, inadequate public signage, and a lack of alternatives to staircases. Research here has focused on their consequences, such as falls and increasing social isolation, but equally on design and planning solutions to assist older people. Indeed a particular strength of this research is that it moves beyond a traditional focus on older people's functional limitations to find positive ways to make environments more enabling for them.