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 depression, 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:
- Livable communities: This model focuses on the environment and design of communities, including safety, 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 Partners for Livable Communities, AARP, and Community Innovations for Aging in Place.
- Villages: 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.
- Senior cohousing: With this model, older adults live together in independent housing units in order to foster social interaction, better quality of life, and community engagement. Generally, members of the co-op own 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.
- Naturally Occurring Retirement 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