Neighborhood Engagement During COVID-19: A Qualitative Study of Aging Americans

Authors: Jessica Finlay*, University of Michigan
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Social Geography, Qualitative Research
Keywords: Older adults, COVID-19, neighborhoods, social infrastructure, well-being, health geography
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 8
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is fundamentally changing neighborhood environments and ways of life. Many neighborhood resources that are critical sources of socialization and activity are closed or tightly restricted. Some communities have shifted to online socialization, physically distant activities, and outdoor gatherings. However, fears of exposure to COVID-19 and other infections may continue to restrict older adults from feeling safe and engaging in their communities. The COVID-19 Coping Study asked participants aged 55+ across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico about how the pandemic has affected their neighborhoods and relationships with neighbors. Qualitative thematic analysis of 2,225 open-ended responses collected online (July-September 2020) identified both increased and decreased local activity and varying levels of socialization and support. Urbanicity/rurality, age structure, poverty, activity restrictions, business closures, political views, weather conditions, and COVID-19 incidence and mortality affected neighborhoods and interpersonal relationships. The results highlight diverse sources of strength and resilience among older adults and their neighbors to cope with the pandemic. They also identify particular areas of vulnerability, in which aging residents feel afraid, alone, exposed to hazardous situations and people, and unable to access services and amenities. Strengthened programs and targeted investment in neighborhoods could connect vulnerable older populations to essential resources, build more supportive physical infrastructure for mobility and access, and enhance social cohesion. Outdoor music, online groups for assistance requests and offers, virtual coffee groups, and encouraging friendly waves, for example, may support coping, connectedness, and purpose during the pandemic.

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