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Older Women At Risk for Social Isolation: Intersections of Mobility & Social Well-Being


Despite various disciplines having studied older women’s social well-being, mobility, and the built environment, researchers continue to address these concepts separately. Further, given the nature of social isolation, little knowledge exists regarding the experiences of older women, and their perceptions of social isolation, particularly in relation to constrained mobility. This dissertation followed a multi-manuscript format to address three areas of inquiry. Manuscript I was a systematic literature review to assess the current state of knowledge regarding social well-being, social isolation, and mobility among community-dwelling older women. Manuscript II was a qualitative study of older women who are isolated or are at-risk for isolation which sought to gain an understanding of older women’s social well-being with the aim of eliciting the meanings of their social isolation. Manuscript III was a qualitative study of older women who are socially-isolated or at risk, conducted to understand their social well-being and mobility with the aim of eliciting the meanings of, obstacles to, and opportunities for social contact.

Results from Manuscript I identified gaps in the literature include a lack of research specifically on older women’s social well-being as affected by their level of mobility, and lack of indication if samples resided in rural, suburban, and urban areas. Manuscript II results underscored the importance of the single social contact whether it be a family member, social service provider or neighbor. Lastly, Manuscript III found the neighborhood social and built environment to interact with older women’s ability to be social.

Practice implications include a focus on supporting older women at critical points along their life course, enhancing social capital, civic engagement and physical exercise, and leveraging existing neighborhood relationships. Policy implications highlighted the need for neighborhood walkability and public transportation accessibility. Recommendation to California's Master Plan on Aging (MPA) were made including creating public-private partnerships to provide subsidized, door-to-door transportation, to the city and state for support the Village to Village movement. Finally, funds through the renewed Older Americans Act (OAA) should be used to support current and novel interventions to address social isolation. Future research should address perceptions of safety in the environment - both of the built environment itself and from other people, particularly for older adult women. Lastly, research should look to identify and understand the capacity for improving social connectivity at non-traditional locations, and the potential impact of varying relationships between individuals providing home-delivery meals and meal recipient social isolation.

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