Not all older adults complain, nor does every community leave older adults raving about the quality of community life or the services available for active living and aging in place. Communities that assist older adults to remain or become active community participants provide the requisite opportunities for recreation, transportation, culture, education, communication, social connection, spiritual enrichment and health care.
Further, older adults, more than others, face difficulties with aspects of everyday life. For many older adults these difficulties vastly exceed the minor physical pains or small losses of function that characterize almost everyone’s circumstances after a certain age. When individual problems are added together, a group picture emerges that provides a useful description of the entire community.
The results of this survey describe Hamilton County as a livable community for older adults within six community dimensions of Overall Community Quality, Community and Belonging, Community Information, Productive Activities, Health and Wellness and Community Design and Land Use. The extent to which older adults experience difficulties and problems within these dimensions is also described.
Overall Community Quality
Overall Community Quality explores how older residents view the community overall, how connected they feel to the community and how well they can access information and services offered by Hamilton County, as well as how likely residents are to recommend and remain in the community.
- A large majority of Hamilton County’s older residents (96%) gave high ratings to the community as a place to live.
- Nine in 10 older adults would recommend the community to others.
- Just under half of respondents had lived in the community for more than 20 years and 9 in 10 planned to stay in the community throughout their retirement.
- When compared to other communities across the nation, Hamilton County older residents tended to rate aspects of Overall Community higher.
Community and Belonging
A “community” is often greater than the sum of its parts, and having a sense of community entails not only a sense of membership and belonging, but also feelings of emotional and physical safety, trust in the other members of the community and a shared history. Older residents rated several aspects of Community and Belonging, including their sense of community and overall feelings of safety, as well as the extent to which they felt accepted and valued by others.
- Over three-quarters of respondents reported “excellent” or “good” overall feelings of safety and between 1% and 22% had experienced safety problems related to being a victim of crime, abuse or discrimination.
- About three-quarters of older residents rated the sense of community as “excellent” or “good”; similar ratings were provided for the County’s neighborliness and valuing of older residents and neighborliness.
- When compared to other communities in the U.S., older residents in Hamilton County received higher or similar ratings for many components of Community and Belonging.
The education of a large community of older adults is not simple, but when more residents are made aware of attractive, useful and well-designed programs, more residents will benefit from becoming participants.
- About 6 in 10 survey respondents reported being “somewhat” or “very” informed about services and activities available to older adults, which was similar to other communities in the U.S.
- About half of older adults felt the community had “excellent” or “good” information about resources for older adults and three-quarters had “excellent” or “good” information about financial or legal planning services.
- About 7 in 10 respondents had problems with not knowing what services were available and just under half felt their voice being heard in the community was at least a minor problem.
- About one-fifth reported having problems with finding meaningful volunteer work, a rate that was lower in Hamilton County than in other communities.
Productive activities such as traditional and non-traditional forms of work and maintenance of social ties combine with health and personal characteristics to promote quality of life in later life and contribute to active aging. Productive Activities examined the extent of older adults’ engagement participation in social and leisure programs and their time spent attending or viewing civic meetings, volunteering or providing help to others.
- About 9 in 10 elders felt they had “excellent” or “good” volunteer opportunities, but only about 3 in 10 participated in some kind of volunteer work, a volunteer rate that was lower than other communities in the U.S.
- Fewer than 1 in 10 respondents had used a senior center in the community, which was lower than senior center use in other communities.
- About half of seniors said that they had at least “minor” problems having interesting social events or activities to attend.
- The majority of older residents rated the recreation (83%) and personal enrichment (70%) opportunities in the community as “excellent” or “good”, which were higher than the national average. However, participation in various recreational and personal enrichment activities tended to be similar to or lower than other communities.
- Over half of older residents in Hamilton County said they were caregivers; respondents averaged between 6 and 10 hours per week providing care for children, adults and older adults.
- About one-quarter of older adults in Hamilton County felt physically, emotionally or financially burdened by their caregiving.
- About half of respondents were fully retired and about one-third of respondents experienced at least minor problems with having enough money to meet daily.
- The value of paid (part- and full-time work) and unpaid (volunteering, providing care) contributions by older adults in Hamilton County totaled about $982 million in a 12-month period.
Health and Wellness
Of all the attributes of aging, health poses the greatest risk and the biggest opportunity for communities to ensure the independence and contributions of their aging populations. Health and wellness, for the purposes of this study, included not only physical and mental health, but issues of independent living and health care.
- The older adults in Hamilton County rated the availability of affordable quality physical health care and their overall physical health higher than other communities in the U.S., but other aspects of physical health were rated similarly.
- The portions of older residents reporting problems with doing heavy or intense housework (57%), staying physically fit (50%) and maintaining their yards (48%) was similar compared to elsewhere in the country.
- About 6 in 10 older residents felt there was “excellent” or “good” availability of mental health care in Hamilton County while close to 9 in 10 rated their overall mental health/emotional wellbeing as “excellent” or “good.”
- The most commonly cited mental health issues included feeling depressed (39%) and bored (38%), while the least cited issue was figuring out which medications to take and when (2%). These mental health problems experienced by older adults were similar to the problems experienced by older adults in other communities.
- The availability of preventive health services was rated higher than the national average.
- Four in 10 older adults reported at least minor problems with having adequate information or dealing with public programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
- About one in five respondents reported spending time in a hospital, and 29% had fallen and injured themselves in the 12 months prior to the survey. Falls and hospitalizations occurred at a similar rate to other communities.
- About 4 in 10 older adults reported at least minor problems with aspects of independent living, including performing regular activities, including walking, eating and preparing meals.
Community Design and Land Use
The movement in America towards designing more “livable” communities – those with mixed-use neighborhoods, higher-density development, increased connections, shared community spaces and more human-scale design – will become a necessity for communities to age successfully. Communities that have planned for older adults tend to emphasize access – a community design that facilitates movement and participation.
- Respondents rated the ease of getting to the places they usually have to visit, ease of car travel and ease of walking most positively with about two-thirds or more rating each as “excellent” or “good.”
- About half of respondents felt they had “excellent” or “good” availability of affordable quality housing and variety of housing options.
- Some older adults experienced problems with having safe and affordable transportation available (17%) while others experienced problems with having housing to suit their needs (19%) or having enough food to eat (14%). Daily living problems tended to be similar to other communities across the nation.
- About 9 in 10 older residents rated their overall quality of life as “excellent” or “good”, which was higher than in other communities in the U.S.