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 Johnson 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 Johnson County, as well as how likely residents are to recommend and remain in the community.
- Most of Johnson County’s older residents gave high ratings to the community as a place to live.
- About three-quarters of older adults would recommend the community to others.
- Under half of respondents (40%) had lived in the community for more than 20 years and about 7 in 10 planned to stay in the community throughout their retirement.
- When compared to other communities across the nation, Johnson County older residents tended to have similar ratings for aspects of Overall Community.
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.
- Almost two-thirds of respondents reported “excellent” or “good” overall feelings of safety and between 16% and 38% had experienced safety problems related to being a victim of crime, abuse or discrimination.
- About 4 in 10 older residents rated the sense of community as “excellent” or “good”; lower than ratings provided for the County’s neighborliness and valuing of older residents.
- When compared to other communities in the U.S., older residents in Johnson County’s service area provided lower ratings for aspects of Community and Belonging and experienced more problems.
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.
- Just over half of survey respondents reported being “somewhat” or “very” informed about services and activities available to older adults, which was similar to reports from other communities in the U.S.
- Only one-quarter of older adults felt they had “excellent” or “good” information about resources for older adults and financial or legal planning services.
- About three-quarters of respondents had problems with not knowing what services were available and feeling that their voice was heard in the community.
- About 4 in 10 reported having problems with finding meaningful volunteer work, a rate that was higher in Johnson 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 8 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 lower than other communities in the U.S.
- About 1 in 8 respondents had used a senior center in the community, which was similar to senior center use in other communities.
- About 6 in 10 seniors said that they had at least “minor” problems having interesting social events or activities to attend.
- A small majority of older residents (54%) rated the recreation opportunities in the community as “excellent” or “good”; participation in recreational and personal enrichment activities tended to be lower in Johnson County than in other communities.
- Just over half of older residents in Johnson County said they were caregivers; respondents averaged between 6 and 18 hours per week providing care for children, adults and older adults.
- About one-third of older adults in Johnson County felt physically, emotionally or financially burdened by their caregiving.
- Close to three-quarters of respondents were fully retired and 46% of respondents experienced at least minor problems with having enough money to meet daily expenses.
- The value of paid (part- and full-time work) and unpaid (volunteering, providing care) contributions by older adults in Johnson County totaled about $425 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.
- Overall, the older adults in Johnson County rated aspects of physical health similar or lower than other communities in the U.S. including ratings of fitness opportunities, physical health care and their own overall physical health.
- The portions of older residents reporting problems with staying physically fit and maintaining a healthy diet was higher in Johnson County than elsewhere in the country while problems doing house and yard work was similar.
- About 3 in 10 older residents felt there was “excellent” or “good” availability of mental health care in Johnson County while about 7 in 10 rated their overall mental health/emotional wellbeing as “excellent” or “good.”
- The most commonly cited mental health issues included feeling depressed (51%) or bored (57%) and dealing with loss (51%) while the least cited issue was figuring out which medications to take and when. The proportion of people experiencing these aspects of mental health in Johnson County tended to be higher than other communities across the nation.
- The availability of preventive health services were rated similar to the national average.
- Two-thirds of older adults reported at least minor problems with having adequate information or dealing with public programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which was higher than in other communities.
- About 2 in 10 respondents reported spending time in a hospital, and 41% had fallen and injured themselves in the 12 months prior to the survey. Falls and hospitalizations occurred at a similar rate in Johnson County as in other communities.
- At least one-third of older adults reported at least minor problems with aspects of independent living, including having problems with 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.
- Two-thirds of respondents rated the ease of car travel positively as “excellent” or “good”, but the ease of getting to the places they usually have to visit (58%), walking (38%) and using public or senior transit (29%) were rated lower than in other communities.
- About 45% of respondents felt they had “excellent” or “good” availability of affordable quality housing and variety of housing options, which was similar to the national average.
- Some older adults experienced problems with having safe and affordable transportation available (40%) while others experienced problems with having housing to suit their needs (21%) or having enough food to eat (16%). Daily living problems tended to be similar or a little worse in Johnson County when compared to other communities across the nation.
- About 7 in 10 of older residents rated their overall quality of life as “excellent” or “good”, though Johnson County’s quality of life was rated lower than other communities in the U.S.