The Age-Friendly Attributes of Warkworth: A Case Study of a Rural Town in New Zealand
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Background Ageing of the global population is expected to be the predominant demographic pattern of the twenty-first century and is having an impact on nearly every country. The majority of older people have a preference for ageing in place in familiar communities. Ideally, the responsibility for ageing in place should be shared among individuals, communities, and governments. The World Health Organization’s age-friendly cities and communities model has become a favoured policy response globally to support ageing in place. New Zealand has followed global strategic direction in support of ageing in place and is committed to the age-friendly model. Population ageing is occurring at a faster rate in rural communities than in urban centres. Although rural ageing has recently gained global attention in gerontology, little is known about the age-friendliness of rural towns and small rural communities in New Zealand. This study aimed to explore the age-friendly attributes of a small rural town in New Zealand and to identify priorities and opportunities to improve age-friendliness. Design and Methods The study employed a single case study design underpinned by Deweyan pragmatism. Case study research allows multiple perspectives of a phenomenon to be explored in the context of the local community. The WHO age-friendly conceptual framework informed the design of the study. A central assumption underpinning the age-friendly model is the dynamic relationship between older people and their environment. A transactional perspective provided an epistemological lens to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamic process of continually adapting to a constantly changing environment. Data were collected from multiple sources using multiple methods including document review, a cross-sectional survey, walking interviews with people aged 65 years and over and face-to-face interviews with retail and service operators in Warkworth. Data from all sources were triangulated to provide an in-depth and nuanced exploration of the case. Findings Four main themes represented the age-friendly attributes: being established, being present, being involved and being responsive. The findings identified a strong sense of community, older people were custodians of their community, there were strong social networks and local involvement, and the local community was responsive to older people. The participants cared deeply about their town and were committed to making it a better place now and for the future for themselves, other older people ageing in the community and future generations. A range of priorities and opportunities to advance the age-friendliness of the physical, social, and service environments were identified and recommendations were provided to the local community and levels of government. Conclusion Older people in the Warkworth community are making a significant bottom-up contribution to the age-friendliness of the town. Raising awareness of the age-friendly model would ideally build on existing strengths and age-friendly attributes of the community identified in the present study. The identified strengths of community stewardship and custodianship suggest older people in this community could contribute to decision making in a more structured and official capacity at a local, civic level. This study makes a significant original contribution to our understanding of age-friendliness in rural communities in New Zealand. The findings also have international relevance for rural ageing and age-friendly knowledge and practice by contributing highly contextual place-based evidence. Additionally, applying a Deweyan pragmatic perspective contributes to the theoretical understanding of the age-friendly model. There is an opportunity for local government to facilitate engagement with older people in a more innovative, localised response to age-friendliness in this community. Age-friendly principles should be promoted and embedded in planning processes to ensure the future development of Warkworth provides a liveable and age-friendly environment for its oldest citizens ageing in the community.