Methods: The study used data from Community Partnerships for Older Adults (CPOA) Program Survey of Older Adults 2002. The participants included 4940 adults between 50 and 85+ years of age. This study collected data from individuals who were nested within 13 communities across 10 states in the U.S. Hence, multilevel modeling was used to examine the association of demographic and community-level variables with social engagement.
Results: Nearly all older adults were socially engaged in at least one of the three activities, in a week prior to participating in this study. There were more females (61.1%) than males (38.9%). Half (50.4%) of the study sample was less than 65 years old and only 36.4% participants reported making more than $ 40,000 a year. Most of the respondents (73.6%) had lived in the same communities for more than 20 years and 81.7% of them reported that their community was a good or excellent place to live. A significant number of older adults (68.5%) thought that they have influence in making their community a better place to live.
Gender, education, being retired, good health, one or more number of living children, income, someone to take care in case of emergency and length of stay in the community were significant predictors of social engagement. However, unlike the previous literature, age and marital status were not. Length of stay in the community was no longer significant when knowledge of supportive services was added to the regression model. Further, influence in making community a better place to live; interest of local officials towards needs and concerns of the older adults; and knowledge of available services significantly predicted social engagement.
Discussion: Findings indicate that community and the relationships within the community are important inspite of individual differences among older adults. This lays the foundation for the development of resources, supportive services and polices that would promote participation in various religious, social and family activities among community-dwelling older adults. In conclusion, consideration of individual characteristics and community variables while designing programs for older adults may increase participation and social engagement, which could result in improved quality of life and wellbeing among older adults. Furthermore, geriatric social workers serving as clinicians and advocates in various community based organizations can utilize these findings to identify services that would best support social engagement activities.