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 Morgan 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 Morgan County, as well as how likely residents are to recommend and remain in the community.
- Most of Morgan County’s older residents gave high ratings to the community as a place to live.
- Overall, about 7 in 10 of older adults said they would recommend the community to others, which was a level of recommendation lower than that seen in other communities.
- Most residents had lived in the area more than 20 years and about three-quarters of seniors planned to remain in the area throughout their retirement.
- When compared to other communities across the nation, Morgan County older residents tended to rate aspects of Overall Community similar to or lower than these communities.
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.
- A strong majority of respondents reported “excellent” or “good” overall feelings of safety and between 2% and 22% had experienced safety problems related to being a victim of crime, abuse or discrimination.
- About two in five older residents rated the sense of community as “excellent” or “good” and about one-third of residents or more rated the County’s neighborliness and valuing of older residents favorably.
- When compared to other communities in the U.S., older residents in Morgan County’s service area tended to provide similar ratings for aspects 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 half of survey respondents reported being “somewhat” or “very” informed about services and activities available to older adults, which was lower than reports from other communities in the U.S.
- About one-third or less of older adults felt they had “excellent” or “good” information about resources for older adults and financial or legal planning services.
- Two-thirds of respondents had problems with not knowing what services were available and slightly fewer had problems with feeling like their voice was heard in the community.
- About two in five reported having problems with finding meaningful volunteer work, a rate that was higher in Morgan 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 7 in 10 elders felt they had “excellent” or “good” volunteer opportunities, but only about one-third participated in some kind of volunteer work, a volunteer rate much lower than other communities in the U.S.
- About 1 in 10 respondents had used a senior center in the community, which was lower when compared to 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.
- About half of older residents in Morgan County viewed recreation opportunities favorably while about one in five viewed opportunities to enroll in skill-building or personal enrichment classes favorably; both these ratings were lower than the ratings seen elsewhere.
- Two-thirds of older residents in Morgan County said they were caregivers; respondents averaged between 7.6 and 9.3 hours per week providing care for children, adults and older adults.
- About one-quarter older adults in Morgan County felt physically, emotionally or financially burdened by their caregiving.
- About three-quarters of respondents were fully retired, but one-quarter or less of respondents experienced at least minor problems with having enough money to meet daily expenses or to pay their property taxes. The proportions of older adults that had financial problems (paying daily expenses or property taxes) were lower in Morgan County than in other communities.
- The value of paid (part- and full-time work) and unpaid (volunteering, providing care) contributions by older adults in Morgan County totaled about $210 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 Morgan County rated aspects of physical health lower than other communities in the U.S. including ratings of fitness opportunities and physical health care.
- Fewer residents reported problems with their physical health and maintaining their yard in 2017 compared to 2013 and the proportions of older residents reporting physical health problems in Morgan County tended to be similar to those reported elsewhere.
- Almost one in five older residents felt there was “excellent” or “good” availability of mental health care in Morgan County while four in five rated their overall mental health/emotional wellbeing as “excellent” or “good.” Seniors’ evaluations’ of their mental health and emotional well-being increased between 2013 and 2017.
- The most commonly cited mental health issues included experiencing confusion or forgetfulness and feeling bored and least commonly cited issue was managing medications; the mental health problems experienced by older adults tended to be similar to the problems experienced by older adults in other communities.
- Two in five of older adults reported at least minor problems with having adequate information or dealing with public programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
- One in five seniors reported spending time in a hospital and about one-quarter had fallen and injured themselves in the 12 months prior to the survey. Falls and hospitalizations in Morgan County occurred at rates similar to those in other communities.
- One-third reported 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.
- About 7 in 10 older residents rated their overall quality of life as “excellent” or “good.” Morgan County’s elders’ quality of life received ratings lower than the national average, while the cost of living received ratings higher than the average.
- Respondents rated the ease of getting to the places they usually have to visit and ease of car travel most positively with about two-thirds rating each as “excellent” or “good.”
- About one-third or more of seniors 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 (30%) while others experienced problems with having housing to suit their needs (14%) or having enough food to eat (11%). Daily living problems in Morgan County tended to be similar to other communities across the nation.