Access to transportation, voluntary participation and the self-reported physical and mental health of older people who live alone in rural and urban Northern Ireland.

Gerontological research repeatedly found a link between being socially isolated and ill physical and mental health of older people (Coyle and Dugan 2012; Hemmesch et al. 2012; Locher et al. 2005). Living alone and being childless have been found to enhance the risk of becoming isolated at older ages (Coyle and Dugan 2012; Wall 1984; Burholt and Scharf 2013). Furthermore, the risk of isolation was found to increase with decreasing physical mobility and health (Victor, Burholt, and Martin 2012; Coyle and Dugan 2012), as actively taking part in local community life becomes more difficult.

The link between relative isolation (living alone and without access to transportation) and ill health has not been sufficiently investigated for the Northern Irish population yet. Furthermore, there is a knowledge gap regarding comparisons between rural, remote and urban settings. Living alone could have different implications for older people in rural as compared to urban settings, especially when taking into account measures of remoteness (proximity to services).

This project aims at analysing a) relationships (associations) between living alone and self-reported subjective physical and mental ill-health of older people, and b) particularly for rural and remote settings, the role of mobility and access to transportation (car-ownership) in preventing isolation and its possible adverse effects on health. For rural and urban settings alike, active volunteering will be included as a key measure of communal participation.

These research questions have not yet sufficiently been explored for the Northern Irish population. In particular, there is a lack of studies using samples representative of Northern Ireland’s population aged 65 and older.

Research Strategy: Firstly the living arrangements of older people (marital status, living alone or with relatives in the household, childlessness) are compared between rural and urban settings and comparisons are carried out as to associations with self-reported health. Relationships with self-reported subjective physical and mental health are explored for both rural and urban settings. A key measure in this regard is proximity to social services, which is part of the Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure (MDM)-score, and will be utilised as a measure for remoteness.

Secondly, the project examines particularly for older people living in remote areas of Northern Ireland the role that access to transportation could play in preventing isolation, thus potentially improving the self-reported physical and mental health of individuals aged 65 and older. Potential links between car-ownership, active volunteering and health are explored using the Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study (NILS) with linked Census 2001-and 2011 records.

For all comparisons, analyses will adjust for impaired self-reported health at time point 1 (Census Day 2001) and where possible for measures of general wealth/poverty (e.g. tenure – living in council housing).


Publications and Outputs:

Doebler, S. and Glasgow, N. (2016) ‘Relationships Between Deprivation and the Self-Reported Health of Older People in Northern Ireland’ Journal of Aging and Health, doi: 10.1177/0898264316641079

Doebler, S. (2015) ‘Access to a Car and the Self-Reported Health and Mental Health of People Aged 65 and Older in Northern Ireland’ Research on Aging, doi: 10.1177/0164027515590424

Research Team: Dr Stefanie Doebler, Dr Ian Shuttleworth and Ms Claire O’Boyle
Database: NILS
Project Status: Complete
Organisation(s): Queen’s University Belfast