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Aging in Place in Rural Communities

Older adults are valuable members of rural communities and should be supported in their desire to age in place. However, aging in place in rural communities comes with unique challenges and opportunities. Although rural communities are home to a higher proportion of older residents, rural communities provide fewer services than metro core communities in categories such as:

  • Healthcare
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Civic engagement
  • Nutrition services
  • Social services

While rural areas offer many benefits, supporting aging in place may require more careful planning and coordination than in other settings.

Nearly 90% of older adults would like to remain in their homes for as long as possible. However, the physical changes brought on by aging — vision and hearing changes, cognitive decline, mobility limitations, and self-care difficulties, among others — can impact older adults' ability to age in place.

Approximately 30% of older adults receive caregiving for health or other reasons (such as household chores or transportation), and adult children were the largest group of caregivers. However, younger populations — prime-age workers aged 25 to 54 — are leaving rural communities, creating challenges for older adults who depend upon help from adult children or other family members.

Financial insecurity is a barrier for rural populations, and many older adults are burdened by the cost of paying for their housing, specifically. Rural seniors who cannot stay in their own homes for physical or financial reasons have fewer housing and rental options than seniors who live in urban areas. Rural seniors who rent their housing are more likely to experience problems with housing affordability than those who own their homes. This may make it difficult for rural older adults to stay in their community as they age.

Another important consideration for aging in place is access to transportation. In rural communities, the private automobile is the primary mode of transportation for more than 90% of trips. However, as older adults transition from the driver's seat to the passenger's seat, they must consider how they will travel to medical appointments, buy groceries, and take other trips. Social connectedness is associated with positive health outcomes.

Finally, food insecurity is a problem that impacts the health and well-being of older adults. Tools are available to support healthy nutrition among older adults in communities.

This toolkit will provide program models and strategies to support older adults aging in place in rural communities.

Resources to Learn More

Helping Rural Seniors Age in Place
Document
Provides state-level strategies for supporting growing numbers of older adults aging in rural communities.
Author(s): Ewing, J.
Organization(s): National Conference of State Legislatures
Date: 9/2014

Planning for the Aging Population: Rural Responses to the Challenge
Document
This document provides and overview of some of the main demographic issues related to aging rural populations, as well as examples of program models to help support older adults in rural areas.
Organization(s): National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a)
Date: 10/2012

Safely Aging in Place in Rural America
Document
Describes some of the key issues related to aging in place in rural America, as well as strategies that can help support older adults living in rural communities.
Author(s): Schroeder, M.
Citation: U.S. News & World Report
Date: 12/2016