Staying connected to others, even in informal social arrangements, helps older, low-income New Yorkers ease some of the difficulties of aging in an expensive city. For the more than one million city residents over 65 (12 percent of the city's population and growing), city life can present major challenges to mental and physical health.
As every New York resident knows, but especially the population surveyed for the new Academy Report "Aging: Health Challenges and the Role of Social Connections," the latest in the series "City Voices: New Yorkers on Health," the city can be a tough place to find affordable housing and healthy, low-cost foods. And even though NYC is home to some of the world's best physicians, geriatric care is also often difficult to find. In addition, older persons with limited mobility and low budgets tell us they often struggle to locate viable means of transportation.
"This new report shows that while we have made great strides in helping New York become a more age-friendly city, there's still work to be done to provide the supportive environments and services needed to assure that older persons can stay as active and engaged in the city as they wish to be and avoid the kinds of social isolation that can contribute to health problems," says Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, president of the Academy.
"In broad ranging conversations and surveys with low-income residents ages 65 to 102, the people featured in the report explained why aging in the city poses health risks:
"There's food insecurity because of a lack of available funds to maybe buy the groceries that they need. So people are making those decisions every day about, 'Well, what can I buy, what can I afford with my limited amount of income for this month?… Oftentimes nutrition suffers in that mix, because they'll get their medicine instead of buying food." (Older Adult Service Provider Queens)
Health and Connection
The report also documented poor health among many survey/focus group respondents (42 percent) and revealed health disparities in many older ethnic and racial groups. In addition, a clear link between social isolation and health emerged.
"I think that one of the things that we've identified for sure is that a lot of seniors are alone in the community. So what we see a lot of is social isolation. And we can demonstrate that that has an absolute effect on their physical wellbeing." (Older adult service provider, Queens)
As a leader in identifying and preventing the challenges faced by older adults living in urban environments, the Academy sees the report findings as an opportunity to provide more extensive support for senior resource centers, as we work to address the upstream causes of these late life issues.
"This clearly shows us that we need to expand our work -- through our Age-friendly NYC Commission and other efforts -- to increase ways for seniors to connect with others," says Lindsay Goldman, LCSW, project director for Age-friendly NYC, a partnership with the New York City Council and the Mayor's office. "As older adults living in cities continue to be the fastest growing demographic, addressing systems that improve health and well-being for older adults is not just good for people, it is critical to the health of the city," Goldman added.
As one survey group participant explained, "I do come to this center because the people I have met here -- they seem to be concerned for me. And I appreciate that. I'm one of those people that don't have anybody [at home]..."
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