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OPERAT Background

Where we live and the environment outside our homes can impact on our quality of life as well as our ability to be active and independent as we age. Neighbourhoods with well-lit streets and wide pavements may be more walkable, enabling us to be physically and socially active in later life. The presence of natural features such as trees and grass and neighbourhoods free from litter and graffiti can contribute to our wellbeing. 

As the built environment has an impact on the health and wellbeing of older people, OPERAT has been developed to assess the environment outside our homes. The tool has been developed with older people with a range of physical and cognitive abilities and different needs. This was so that the tool addresses the features that are most important to older people and therefore can help to identify which areas are more inclusive and ‘age friendly’ or ‘dementia supportive’ than others.

How it works

OPERAT is a visual checklist that people can use to assess rural or urban areas. The assessment is completed on location, that is you have to visit the postcode area to conduct the assessment. OPERAT consists of 17 items that are split over two sections: street level observations and property level observations. Street level observations assess features of the postcode area as a whole such as the presence of nature and how well maintained the road surface and pavements are. Property level observations assess how well maintained individual properties and gardens are.

When the assessment is completed the results from the 17 items are used to calculate an overall score for the postcode area. Scores are calculated for four subscales which capture: Natural Elements; Incivilities and Nuisance; Navigation and Mobility; and Territorial Functioning. 

Subscale Items
Natural Elements   Public grass or verges
Sounds of nature
Private trees
Incivilities and Nuisance  Traffic, industrial or other noise
Litter, dog fouling, broken glass
Passing cars
Navigation and Mobility     Legible road signs
Street and alleys lit
Pavement maintenance and width
Road maintenance
Territorial Functioning     Nature of parking
Main outlook
External beautification
Garden maintenance
Property maintenance

The final OPERAT score can be between 0 and 100.  A lower score in any of the domains means that a postcode area includes more desirable and age friendly features. A lower overall OPERAT score means that the postcode area is more likely to meet the varying needs of older people. On the other hand, a higher score in any of the domains means that a postcode area includes fewer desirable and age friendly features, and more barriers to inclusivity. A greater overall OPERAT score means that the postcode area is less likely to meet the varying needs of older people.

Participatory approaches to research

Older people have often been excluded from contributing to the urban and rural planning. OPERAT adopted a participatory approach to development. The items and domains were chosen by an Expert Advisory Group - comprising people aged over 65 years, and representatives from the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Separate consultations with people with dementia and their carers were undertaken. This egalitarian method allowed participants to develop subjects that were most important to them. Consequently, OPERAT incorporates the most important and desirable features of the environment for older people. Older people decided on the relative importance of the domains identified in the analysis, and influenced the scoring of the measure. We think that OPERAT may provide a better starting point for understanding environmental pressures on the lives of older people than idealistic models that have been developed without older people.

Please feel free to use any of the resources on this site or to contact us if you would like to know anything more about OPERAT.