Engaging in a rural community: perceptions of the oldest old
The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of people aged 85 years and over about their engagement in a rural community. Although engagement in the community is known to be beneficial to the health and wellbeing of older people, there is a lack of knowledge of how the oldest old engaged in rural communities. Many older people prefer to remain living in familiar communities where they have established connections and social networks. Evidence suggests these connections may be particularly relevant in rural communities as people age. As rural populations are ageing rapidly, there is urgency for communities to respond to the opportunities and challenges presented by this ageing phenomenon by enhancing the quality of the physical and social environments. A qualitative descriptive methodology utilising semi-structured, digitally recorded interviews was undertaken to gather the perceptions of participants. A purposive and snowball sampling technique was employed to recruit 15 participants aged between 85 and 93 years. To satisfy the inclusion criteria, the participants had to live independently at home within the Warkworth sub-division, a rural area in New Zealand. Interview data were analysed thematically. Two themes were identified during data analysis. Firstly, ?getting there and back?, identified mobility as essential for engagement, in particular being able to drive. Secondly, ?places to go, people to see?, embodied the important contribution social networks and belonging to groups made to engagement. The findings from this study identified being engaged in a rural community makes an important contribution to the participants? ability to age in place. Characteristics of the physical and social environment could present both barriers to and enablers for engagement. To support engagement, communities require appropriate infrastructure and resources. This study contributes to knowledge and provides options for local agencies to use to support people aged 85 years and over to be engaged in their rural community. Communities that support the engagement of their oldest residents will not only enhance the liveability for people of all ages but will ultimately support older peoples? choice to age in place.