Evidence Summary

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Certain social and physical characteristics of neighbourhoods play important roles in the well-being of seniors

Levasseur M, Généreux M, Bruneau J, et al.  Importance of proximity to resources, social support, transportation and neighborhood security for mobility and social participation in older adults: Results from a scoping study  BMC Public Health. 2015, 15: 503.

Review question

•    How are the mobility and social participation of seniors influenced by their neighbourhood?


      The quality of life and health of seniors are strongly influenced by two factors: mobility and social participation.

      Mobility refers to how easily seniors can move around the community, whether that is through walking, using an assistive device like an electric scooter, or public transportation.

      Social participation characterizes how much seniors socially interact with other people in society.

      Mobility and social participation are closely related. It is easier for people to socially participate if they can easily transport themselves to places like the community centre. As well, both factors can be influenced by certain social and physical characteristics of the neighbourhood, such as the distance between residences and amenities, or the level of perceived crime in the neighbourhood. Identifying these characteristics can help us design communities and interventions that enhance the quality of life and health of seniors.

How the review was done

      A detailed search of a number of electronic databases was conducted to identify studies published between 1980 and 2013. Studies that focused on the relationship between the neighbourhood environment and the mobility or social participation of seniors were included in the systematic review.

      A total of 4,802 studies were identified in searches and 50 were included in the review after assessing their eligibility.

      This review was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

What the researchers found

      Seniors who lived in communities that had higher levels of social support, good transportation services, lesser crime rates, friendly walking environments, and access to amenities that were located near their residence tended to be more mobile and had higher levels of social participation.

      The direction and strength of these associations may vary from community to community due to the influence of socio-demographic characteristics like the average level of education or income of residents in the neighbourhood.

      There needs to be more research into how social participation and mobility are affected by attitudes (for example, interactions between strangers and sidewalk etiquette) as well as non-transportation services, systems and policies. More research is also needed to document the experience of seniors with disabilities.


      Communities should be designed in a way that helps seniors perform daily tasks, access services and maintain social ties. Those working in public health or urban planning could use the factors identified in this review in order to develop communities that promote the social and physical well-being of seniors.


Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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