Older adults are at higher
risk of being socially isolated, due to the loss of partners/spouses, friends, and loved ones. Distance
from friends, neighbors, and loved ones is also a contributing
factor to social isolation, especially for older
adults living in rural areas. Older adults who are socially isolated are at greater risk of
chronic illness, and death. This makes it
especially important to ensure that older adults are integrated into a strong social network. In order to help
older individuals age in place in rural communities, it is important to develop programs that help them remain
actively engaged in their communities. Doing so may improve their health and quality of life, and their
communities will also benefit from having older adults as active participants.
The following program models support older adults in aging in place and remaining active in their community:
communities: This model focuses on the environment and design of communities, including
housing, transportation, and opportunities for civic and social engagement. These issues are all important
to address the needs of isolated older adults in rural America. There are several organizations that offer
guidance on how to make a community “livable,” including AARP and Community Innovations for Aging in Place.
These programs offer in-home services and connect them to affordable services in their community. Members
get access to a variety of programs and services, from meeting daily needs to social and recreational
events. The Village
Movement started with Beacon Hill Village in Boston, and there are now approximately 205 operating
villages in the United States, including rural areas.
cohousing: With this model, older adults live together in independent housing units in
foster social interaction, better quality of life, and community engagement. Generally, members of the co-op
the housing complex, which allows them to have more control over decisions that affect their home.
While co-op housing for older adults is more common in urban areas, nearly
20% of co-op homes are located in rural communities.
Communities (NORC): These are communities, or geographic areas (sometimes called
Naturally Occurring Retirement
Regions in rural areas), which have a higher concentration of older adults. NORCs present
opportunities for communities to develop services to meet the needs of their older adults aging in place.
The federal government has grant programs
available to address the needs of NORCs and to help develop programs to improve the quality of life of older
adults living in NORCs.
Resources to Learn More
Campaign to End Loneliness:
Connections in Older Age
This is a resource from the United Kingdom, which addresses the concern of social isolation of older residents
and argues that it leads to lower quality of life. It includes a report that talks about best practices to avoid
social isolation in older age.
Organization(s): Campaign to End Loneliness
Homecare Cooperative Initiative
Resource center for home care cooperatives and members or individuals interested in starting a co-op. Includes a
podcast and additional resources such as financial models and other effective strategies for those who want to
start a co-op.
Organization(s): Cooperative Development Foundation