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Community characteristics can influence the capacity of older adults to achieve wellness

Winterton R, Warburton J, Keaton N, et al.  Understanding the influence of community characteristics on wellness for rural older adults: A meta-synthesis  Journal of Rural Studies. 2015; 45:320-327.

Review question

How do diverse rural community characteristics influence the capacity of adults over the age of 60 to achieve wellness?

Background

In addition to limited access to health-related resources, rural residency is correlated to reduced life expectancy, higher morbidity, poorer health behaviours, increased obesity and other specific diseases. This is particularly relevant as the rural population ages rapidly.

When considering the quality of life for the aging population, wellness is defined by the synergy between available resources and the challenges faced by the individual. This is significant as the mobility of older adults decreases and the need for accessible resources increases.

This review aimed to collect relevant information to develop a model to classify the determinants of individual wellness for rural older adults, with a particular interest in factors related to the social and built environment.

How the review was done

A detailed search of a number of electronic databases for studies published from 2004 to 2014 was conducted. Studies that focused on older adults, rural communities, age-friendly neighbourhoods and the environment were included in the review.

A total of 2,206 studies were identified in searches, and 44 were included in the review after assessments for eligibility.

This review was funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant.

What the researchers found

The studies included in the review highlight that rural community characteristics influence the opportunities, capabilities, perceptions of the environment, and measures of health for the aging population.

These community characteristics are categorized as socio-demographic and spatial characteristics, and resource-based, such as housing and natural environments.

Conclusion

The review found that community resources in rural areas can be channeled to contribute to the influence of socio-spatial and resource environments to benefit the health and wellness of the aging population, by providing age-friendliness, livability and perceived safety. Further investigation is recommended on this topic, particularly related to individual diversity in socio-spatial settings and older adults acting as a community resource.




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