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Social participation is a cornerstone of successful aging in rural areas

Carver L, Beamish R, Phillips S, Villeneuve M. Social participation as a cornerstone of successful aging in place among rural older adults Geriatrics. 2018; 3(4): 75.

Review question

•    What factors influence social participation and successful aging among rural-dwelling older adults?


      Globally, rural communities face limited access to transportation, which may limit access to friends, family, as well as health and social services.

      Nevertheless, many rural-dwelling older adults report positive aspects of living in rural areas, such as attachment to a community, social participation, and familiarity. Creating a sense of belonging appears to outweigh the limitations of living in rural areas.

      This scoping review was conducted to explore factors influencing social participation and successful aging among rural-dwelling older adults.

How the review was done

      A literature search was conducted in Ovid MEDLINE(R) database, which includes research from approximately 4600 international journals.

      Study authors were interested in articles written about aging in rural communities as related to social participation and lived experiences. Search terms included “rural”, “lived experience”, “social participation”, “aging”, and “elder”, among others.

      The search was restricted to peer-reviewed English-language articles available online. Potentially relevant articles from the reference lists of identified publications were used if they met the inclusion criteria.

      A total of 63 articles were retrieved for review and analysis, 19 of which were included in the study.

      No external funding was reported for this study.

What the researchers found

      Results from this study were thematically grouped by study authors. Factors found to affect social participation included: (1) being with people and pets, (2) doing activities with and for others, and (3) attachment to place.

      Across various geographies, the spending of time with others and pets were found to contribute beneficially to social participation. In one study, older adults reported that friendship and community activities, including running a business or volunteering, are factors that help healthy aging in their communities.

      It was found that rural older adults are more likely than their urban counterparts to develop or continue roles that involve participation in community organizations, including service agencies, local legions, women’s institutes, or religious communities.

      Several articles suggested that community attachment is a fundamental reason for older adults to age in place in a rural location.

      In order to facilitate aging in rural communities, however, older adults report needing help with “housekeeping and home maintenance, transportation, personal care, and management of medical conditions.”


      The scoping review identified 19 articles highlighting the importance of supports to enable older people to spend time with others, including their pets, engage in volunteer and community activities, and help maintain their home and care for their pets.

      Overall, the lack of services, including local health care facilities, was found to be less important than the attachment to place and social capital associated with aging.

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