How Older Adults Contribute To The Health Of Their Communities

In successful communities, older adults are often the glue that dynamically binds together a family and a neighborhood. The varied contributions of older adults to a community reflect the heterogeneity of this population. A substantial proportion of homeowners in urban communities are older adults. As homeowners, these older adults have a stake in preserving the quality of the neighborhood and the value of their property. They therefore often provide necessary social capital by serving as guardians and observers in neighborhoods. Because social cohesion in a community is associated with lower rates of violence (Sampson et al., 1997), older adults can be important contributors to increased neighborhood safety.

Similarly, because they are less likely to migrate than younger adults, seniors provide stability in a family and neighborhood. These stabilizing forces provide moral leadership and mentoring for younger family members as well as others in the neighborhood. Households led by a person at least 65 years old have a lower risk of being victims of property crime than households headed by someone under age 65 (FIFA, 2000). Conversely, when these citizens become too frail to maintain their homes, communities suffer. Declines in health, declines in physical function, and home deterioration can lead to migration out of the community to institutional care or to a family member's home. Investments in disease and disability prevention as well as investments in home maintenance are likely to keep people in their homes and preserve housing stock and neighborhood stability.

While many young adults leave the city, healthy affluent retired adults often return in order to take advantage of cultural attractions (Mulrine, 1999). For example, the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Friendship Heights in Washington DC have large populations of older adults. These vigorous and affluent retirees bring resources into the city through property taxes, discretionary spending, and charitable contributions including support of cultural activities.

As noted above, older adults, particularly women, are frequent volunteers in urban communities, bringing services and support to many others. Older people who do not do paid work or formal volunteering often serve as informal caregivers, providing important care to spouses or to grandchildren. Thus, older adults bring substantial social and financial capital, as well as neighborhood stability, to urban communities.


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