Ageing in place and social isolation in rural dwelling older adults : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Health Psychology at Massey University, Manawatu, New Zealand
This research set out to answer three related research questions. Firstly, if and how rural dwelling older adults experience social isolation; secondly, what aspects of community were seen as contributing to or buffering against social isolation; and thirdly, how these aspects affected older adults’ ability to age in place in their rural communities. This research used a social constructionist informed thematic analysis to analyse the interviews from seven participants over the age of 65 who lived in rural areas of the Manawatu-Whanganui Region classed as ‘rural with low urban influence’ under Statistics New Zealand’s Urban/Rural Profile (2004).
The findings from this research revealed that the participants did not experience social isolation from surrounding urban centres due to increased accessibility but did experience some social isolation within their rural communities due to social, demographic and economic changes in their localities. These changes had significant implications for possible social interactions and the participant’s ability to age in place and was influenced by whether a participant felt included or excluded in their rural community. The participants formed two definitions of social isolation based on their experiences. One, based on travel time relative to distance; and the other based on expectations of social interaction frequency when living a ‘rural lifestyle’ in a ‘rural community’. These findings contribute to the literature on social isolation, ageing in place, and age friendly rural communities within a New Zealand context, by drawing attention to the nuanced ways in which social isolation might be experienced, and by reflecting on the significance of the connections between people and places in the construction of ‘communities’.