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 Shelby 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 Shelby County, as well as how likely residents are to recommend and remain in the community.
- Most of Shelby County’s older residents gave high ratings to the community as a place to live.
- About two-thirds of older adults would recommend the community to others.
- Seven in ten of respondents had lived in the community for more than 20 years and 8 in 10 planned to stay in the community throughout their retirement.
- When compared to other communities across the nation, Shelby County older residents tended to rate aspects of Overall Community lower.
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.
- About 61% of respondents reported “excellent” or “good” overall feelings of safety and between 5% and 29% had experienced safety problems related to being a victim of crime, abuse or discrimination.
- About half 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.
- When compared to other communities in the U.S., older residents in Shelby County provided 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 7 in 10 survey respondents reported being “somewhat” or “very” informed about services and activities available to older adults, which was higher than reports from other communities in the U.S.
- About two in five older adults felt they had “excellent” or “good” information about resources for older adults and financial or legal planning services.
- Over half of respondents had problems with not knowing what services were available and feeling like their voice was heard in the community.
- Over one-third reported having problems with finding meaningful volunteer work, a rate that was similar in Shelby County when compared to 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 four in five elders felt they had “excellent” or “good” volunteer opportunities, but only about two in five participated in some kind of volunteer work, a volunteer rate much lower than other communities in the U.S.
- About 3 in 10 respondents had used a senior center in the community, which was similar to usage rates found in other communities.
- About half seniors said that they had at least “minor” problems having interesting social events or activities to attend.
- About half of older residents rated the recreation opportunities in the community as “excellent” or “good”; participation in recreational and personal enrichment activities tended to be lower in Shelby County than in other communities.
- Over half of older residents in Shelby County said they were caregivers; respondents averaged between 7 and 13 hours per week providing care for children, adults and older adults.
- About one in five older adults in Shelby County felt physically, emotionally or financially burdened by their caregiving.
- Over two-thirds of respondents were fully retired and between 20% and 30% of respondents experienced at least minor problems with having enough money to meet daily expenses or to pay their property taxes.
- The value of paid (part- and full-time work) and unpaid (volunteering, providing care) contributions by older adults in Shelby County totaled about $160 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 Shelby County rated fitness opportunities and physical health care lower than other communities in the U.S. and were less likely to regularly engage in healthy behaviors such as eating fruits and vegetables and participating in physical activity.
- The portions of older residents reporting problems with doing heavy or intense housework (62%) and maintaining their yards (51%) was similar in Shelby County when compared to other communities while maintaining a healthy diet (53%) was higher.
- About 3 in 10 older residents felt there was “excellent” or “good” availability of mental health care in Shelby County while over 8 in 10 rated their overall mental health/emotional wellbeing as “excellent” or “good.”
- The most commonly cited mental health issues included feeling bored (58%), experiencing confusion or forgetfulness (54%) and feeling depressed (52%), while the least cited issues included figuring out which medications to take and when (19%) and having friends or family to rely on (32%); these mental health problems experienced by older adults tended to be similar to or higher than the problems experienced by older adults in other communities.
- Over one-third 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 respondents reported spending time in a hospital, and almost one-third had fallen and injured themselves in the 12 months prior to the survey. Falls and hospitalizations occurred in Shelby County at rates similar to those of other communities.
- At least one in five of older adults reported at least minor problems with aspects of independent living, notably 44% 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.
- Over three-quarters of older residents rated their overall quality of life as “excellent” or “good”, though Shelby County’s quality of life was rated similar to other communities in the U.S.
- Respondents rated the ease of getting to the places they usually have to visit, ease of car travel and ease of walking. While residents rated car travel more favorably than walking, aspects of travel tended to be rated lower in Shelby County than in other communities across the nation.
- About half respondents felt they had “excellent” or “good” availability of affordable quality housing; the variety of housing options were viewed less favorably by respondents.
- Some older adults experienced problems with having safe and affordable transportation available (21%) while others experienced problems with having housing to suit their needs (17%) or having enough food to eat (9%). Daily living problems tended to be similar in Shelby County when compared to other communities across the nation.