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  • Published on: 7th September 2019
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Even though there are positives and negatives to living in rural versus urban settings, I wanted to find which area better promotes healthy aging. One key factor that fosters health and aging would be social support from close relationships like friends, family and the community. Social support helps balance one’s emotions and helps someone get the help they might need to cope with stress or loss (Uchino 2016). These support systems are also tangible resources like financial help or medical help and a sense of belonging that help others participate in social activities around the community (Uchino 2016). Research shows that social relationships lead to better health in cognitive, emotional, and behavioral areas (Wong 2016). Having relationships with others help influence positive behaviors and provides information, for example when one is sick having friends and family is helpful for asking information about which hospitals or doctors to see thus promoting better health (Wong 2016). Since everyone will go through the aging process it made me question which area, rural versus urban, promotes the best healthy aging.

Literature Review

A study was conducted on elders living in southeast England and western Canada to find out what makes a community come together. They found that a community comes together by providing volunteer services for others in the area. Researchers found that elders with or without disabilities in rural areas still participated more in community activities than in urban areas (Flood 2009). The elders participating in the study also felt attached to their surroundings and could not see themselves moving because their small town will always feel like home (Flood 2009).

Data taken from the 1990 United States census reveled that 10.5 million people over the age of sixty-five live in nonmetropolitan areas versus 23 million that live in metropolitan areas (Bull1998). The data collected revealed that the people living in nonmetropolitan areas had less resources like fewer doctors, nurses and dentists available which meant smaller budgets for services they can provide (Bull 1998). Less public transportation is available in rural areas which means the elderly must rely on their own kind of transportation to get around. Even though living in nonmetropolitan areas has some significant drawbacks, the data stated that elders in rural areas feel more welcomed and the fact that everyone calls each other by their first names was a factor in feeling included in the community (Bull 1998).

Another major factor that elders need to be aware of when considering rural versus metropolitan living circumstances is their mental health.  A study was conducted in rural Oregon on elder’s years ninety-seven years or older to research the brain and how it ages. In the study, out of the sixty-seven elders they found everyone had some type of cognitive impairment but 40% had not reached full dementia (Kaye 2009). The main goal of the study was to find the risk factors for dementia in the rural area so that they can help find other ways to prevent dementia getting worse in younger elderly people (Kaye 2009).

In the next study, males living western Montana in a rural settings ages 61-89 were asked if hardiness would achieve social support and well-being. The study defined hardiness as a personality trait that is made up of commitment, challenge, and control (Wallace 2003).  The results they found from the 295 males that participated in the study reported that hardiness helped resolve relationships between friend support and life satisfaction (Wallace 2003).  The study suggests that hardiness plays a role in social support and may help provide positive outcomes in older adults.

Comparing older adults living in rural and urban areas data was collected from interviews at senior centers and senior meal sites in eastern and southeastern Iowa. The researchers were trying to find the elders life satisfaction and any depression signs while focusing on the effect of social support. The data collected found that elders living in urban areas showed more signs of depression than rural elders (Evans 2009). They found social support was linked to life satisfaction and was negatively linked to signs of depression in elders living in rural areas (Evans 2009).

In rural Kentucky, 130 elders were interviewed based on their relationships with others like friends and family and how support is part of their everyday life. The study found that elders experience so many new changes over time and that they should not be secluded because of their age but viewed as important resources for social support (Van Willigen 2015). The study also found that older people are much less isolated in rural areas than urban (Van Willigen 2015).

A study was conducted by interviewing 26 Alaska native elders in Bristol Bay, Alaska. These elders had been sent to government-run boarding schools when they were children and were not allowed to speak their own language (Lewis 2013). Even though these elders had such cruel upbringings, the study found from the interviews that optimism was a key factor of successful aging (Lewis 2013). The study found that successful aging had four key factors which were spirituality, emotional well-being, community involvement and physical health (Lewis 2013). The elders mentioned how they believed they could age so well was because they continued to stay optimistic even with all the challenges they have faced (Lewis 2013).

The next study was conducted in the American heartland in rural and urban counties with individuals ages 65 and older. The study was completed through focus groups, and urban elders talked about the loss of farming as a way of life and declining land space due to freeways and other economic advancements (Cook 2007). Even though the urban elders voiced their negative opinions about their location they still had a firm desire to age in a place that is familiar to them where they had social connections (Cook 2007).

Theoretical Perspective

The life course perspective views one’s entire life from infancy to elder years.  In class, we learned about the life course perspective and the many terms this perspective has. Roles are the things that society tell us were supposed to be doing with our lives like going to college and being a student. Trujillo (2004) explained how when Naunny was younger her role was to contribute to the family income and find a husband so she could take the burden off her parents. Role configurations are the things society tells us we are supposed to being doing at a specific age in our life. In the book, Naunny was considered the family historian who is usually the oldest woman who wrote letters, remembered birthdays, and keeper of all things family. The family historian would be a role configuration because it’s specific age to the oldest women in the family. Pathways are where everything going on in your life meets based on all your roles. During the discussion, we talked about Pearl and how she “worked” at the senior center which is also where you worked. Her pathway of being retired and wanting to talk to other elders led her to the senior center and your pathway of a researcher led you to work and interview at the senior center. Transitions are the big events good or bad that happen in your life. A good transition would be graduating college and getting married or having your first child. A bad transition would be a death in the family or loss of a job. Trajectories are the security or changes we go through during our lives, we usually go through a lot of them throughout our life. Trujillo (2004) talked about how Naunny had two children with her first husband Charley while living through the great depression. During the depression, Charley died in a car accident which left her widowed with two children, but twenty years later she married Pete and her life began to change for the better. This was just a small snippet of Naunny’s trajectories throughout her life. The Schema is basically a set of rules we follow that society created and tells us what to do and what not to do. Linked lives are when our life connects with another family members. Naunny’s two sons had linked lives because they both grew up in the great depression and through world war II.

Methodology

As I began my research, I interviewed my maternal grandparents, Betty and Keith Williams, otherwise known as Mimi and grandpa, both in their early eighties.  They live in upstate New York in a tiny town called Winthrop with a population of 301 people and 100% of the population are Caucasian (Winthrop, NY 2010-2017). The median home price in Winthrop is $54,000 which is 69% lower than the national average of 175,700 (Winthrop, NY 2010-2017). The area is mainly white, low-income households and the winter weather conditions are extremely harsh. Mimi and grandpa stay active in the winter months by going on daily walks together, cross-country skiing, and taking trips to the sugar bush to make maple syrup every year. Since my grandparents live so far away we all agreed as a family to spend Christmas and a month in the summer together, usually July. Since I only get to see them in the summer and winter, in my scrapbook that I made for them I only had pictures of us in our huge winter coats getting ready to go skiing or us in shorts and flip-flops on the boat, there was no in between.

Since my grandparents live about seventeen hours away by car, we had to do the interview over facetime. My grandpa loves his Ipad and absolutely loves it when we facetime them, and so I would say they are tech savvy and doing the interview over facetime wasn’t a problem for them at all. We divided the interview up into two sessions, the first session was mainly about their earliest memories and their childhood and the second session was their early twenties when they got married and their life they built together. I probably talked to them for more than an hour each time we facetimed but, they seemed to like talking about their childhood and their parents more than their later years. They gave me such detailed memories of their parents and what it was like growing up having to earn their own way. They are the ones that inspired my topic of interest because I want them aging in the best place possible.

Data and Discussion

My parents were both born and raised in Winthrop, New York, got married at twenty-one, and moved to Texas for better opportunities and a happier life. My sisters and I were all born in Dallas but then relocated to Atlanta, Georgia when my dad got a promotion for work back in 2001.  My grandparents have never considered moving away from upstate New York. Mimi and grandpa are the most generous and loving individuals I have ever met and I want them to be happy and healthy as they age thus leading me to my topic of interest which is, does rural or urban settings promote healthy aging.

The data collected about the elders living in southeast England and western Canada found that the community comes together providing volunteer services. In my interview Mimi talked about how she is a devoted member of the catholic church and would go out into the community visiting other Catholics who have not been to church frequently. The research found that elders feel attached to their surroundings they have lived in and raised their children in and do not want to move (Flood 2009). My grandparents and their parents and their great grandparents all lived in Winthrop so it has always felt like home.  Life is simple and Winthrop, New York has always been their home.

The study about metropolitan vs. nonmetropolitan data from the 1990 census found that fewer resources like doctors, nurses, and dentists are available in rural areas (Bull 1998). Mimi and grandpa must drive about 15 miles to see their nearest doctor. Mimi also told a horror story about the time she went to the dentist and got lockjaw, dentist told her it was no big deal and sent her home. This clearly shows the lack of resources the dentist provided my grandmother with! In Winthrop, there is a lack of public transportation besides the school buses so everyone uses their own car to get around. The loss of a driver’s license due to limitations from aging puts a huge road block in one’s life. Not being able to drive means not being able to go get groceries or go to doctors’ appointments. Mimi and grandpa talked about the most significant changes they see in themselves which were getting tired faster, driving, and vision and hearing changes. Even with the negatives my grandparents are fixed in the community everyone calls them by their first names at church and around town.

The study done in rural Oregon found that 40% of elders 97 years or older had not reached full dementia (Kaye 2009). This study was interesting because my grandparents talked about how they read, how my grandpa does a puzzle on the back of a newspaper every morning, and do puzzles a lot during the day. They also do not watch a lot of T.V and if they do it is either the news or jeopardy. When I asked Mimi, what is of most importance to her during this time she said “making your thought process work”. I think keeping their minds sharp and challenging themselves has benefited them as they age and may even be a link to why the elders in the study have not reached full dementia yet.

Grandpa’s parents taught him how to help around the house, work for what you wanted, the value of a dollar, and to earn your own way. He graduated from Catton agricultural technical college with a degree in mechanical engineering heating and refrigeration and went on to work in the army at the joint chiefs of staff office at the pentagon. My grandpa is the smartest man I know because of all these accomplishments. All these factors taught him hardiness which is the personality trait of commitment, challenge, and control. The study about hardiness found that this characteristic would create social support and well-being and would have positive outcomes in older adults. He never gives up and can fix anything, which you do not see the quality in men these days. Having this quality has created social support for him because people know they can count on him.

Mimi talked a lot in the interview how friends and family is the most important thing to her. The values she holds most dear are staying connected with friends and family. The comparison of rural and urban adults in Iowa found that elders in rural areas who had social support was linked to higher levels of life satisfaction (Evans 2009). This study helped me realize that Mimi and grandpa have an amazing social support system from friends in the community and family. Mimi said she is most grateful for her health and the love of family and children that have great values and respect for one another. Even though my grandparents live so far away I think that’s what makes our social connection stronger and makes saying goodbye so much harder.

In the study about the elders living in rural Kentucky the study mentioned how these people have experienced so many changes in their lifetime and social relationships start to decline later in life (Van Willigen 2015). In the interview, Mimi talked about how it was hard for her losing her parents and friends. The study goes on to find that elders should not be isolated but be viewed as resources for social support (Van Willigen 2015). I need my grandparents for social support just as much as they need me and I love how much wisdom they have from all the experiences they have been through. My grandpa gave me a great piece of advice when he said “never measure your accomplishments by what you have done but what you could have accomplished by your ability”. Elders need to stop being so secluded because they do have great advice and wisdom that they want to share. The research also found that elders feel much less isolated in the rural area than urban (Van Willigen 2015). I would say Mimi and grandpa do not feel secluded because of technology for example, the Ipad, they can pick it up and call anyone in our family at the touch of a button. They do not feel isolated because of friends and family in the community so I think this study collected great data.

Remaining optimistic was listed as a key factor of successful aging in the study about elder Alaskan natives in Bristol Bay, Alaska (Lewis 2013). Research found that spirituality, emotional well-being, community engagement and physical health are all key players in successful aging (Lewis 2013). Mimi said something amazing when I asked her what her future plans were she said “not to dwell on your age, if you start doing that you stop everything and that’s all you can think about” and “keep on going, never stop doing the things you’ve always done”. This was very well said and was a bit of advice that I will hold dear to me. She was remaining optimistic was she felt the effects of aging on her refuses to let herself be sad about it. Mimi and grandpa engage in all the foundations of successful aging like their spirituality by going to church every Wednesday night and Sunday morning. They focus on their emotional well-being by spending their time reading, doing puzzles, and gardening. Mimi and grandpa are involved in the community by going to plays the local high school and the local college hockey games, not to mention my grandma still takes line dancing lessons. The focus on their physical health like enjoying walks together, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and hikes. The study found that the elders could successfully age because they continued to be optimistic even though they faced challenges in life (Lewis 2013). Overall, my grandparents are involved in all the elements that make up successful aging which truly thrills me.

Growing up Mimi talked about how her dad got a car when she was a sophomore in high school and how she took the bus everywhere. My grandpa said he would thumb a ride which took me a minute to even understand what that was, so he would hitchhike to get around town. He talked about how he would take the car when he was only twelve years old to go get a quart of milk in the morning and if the milk was not ready yet he would drive around town in the car. The study on aging adults in Americas heartland mentioned coping with losses in changed communities (Cook 2007). They found that elders were still dealing with the loss of farming as a way of life. My grandparents have been through their town changing by everyone having a car now and not hitchhiking around anymore. Even though changes happen the sense of familiarity of the town is what makes people stay. The familiar social connections of friends that you grew up with is still there even though the town might be changing. The study did a great job finding that the power of place is extremely important for aging adults (Cook 2007).

Conclusion

Since everyone will go through the aging process it made me question which area, rural versus urban, promotes the best healthy aging. After my research, I found that rural areas promote the best healthy aging. In rural communities, the social support is stronger because everyone knows each other, is involved in the community more, and are attached to area. Having social connections is linked to greater levels of life satisfaction and promotes successful aging. In the book Connidis (2010), mentions that being involved in relationships with family is a big part how we view ourselves and finding our meaning in the world. Humans are social beings who need to have social interaction, and by having these relationships with friends and family it benefits us greatly during the aging process. Overall, I am delighted that my grandparents have such strong social support from our family and friends and since they live in a rural community, I believe, are aging in the best place.

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