Neighborhood Effects of the Social and Physical-Built Environment and the Health of Older Adults




Sano, Steven K.

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As the population of the United States becomes older, there is a growing recognition that we should turn our attention to the characteristics of the social, built-physical, and socioeconomic environments to better understand how to maintain and promote physical health and active aging in place. This project investigated whether self-assessed neighborhood social factors, such as social participation and social capital, and built neighborhood factors, such as neighborhood built and physical conditions, and vulnerability are better predictors of poor self-rated health above the individual-level context both cross-sectionally and over time. Self-rated health and self-assessed neighborhood factors were measured by the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a nationally-representative longitudinal probability survey of men and women aged 57 and older. Logistic regression analyses were used to examine SRH cross-sectionally and longitudinally. This study demonstrates that over time and compared to adults age 57 to 64, older adults, age 65 to 74 maintain overall good SRH. However, by age 85 and older, poor SRH had tripled when including social and physical-built environmental variables; and after controlling for socioeconomic factors, poor SRH more than doubles. This study shows that including self-assessed neighborhood-level factors, above the individual-level context for older adults, provided better models for predicting poor SRH over time. There is a need for further empirical research to examine the influence of the subjective neighborhood socio-physical and socioeconomic factors on the health of older adults. This will not only advance and deepen our understanding in this area but will also help make more informed and effective planning and policy decisions to promote successful aging in place.


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Neighborhoods, Older adults, Physical-built environment, Social environment, Successful aging