Supporting At-Risk Older Persons in Swedish, Japanese and U.S. Communities: Social Ties and Health

In this project, a group of researchers from Sweden, the United States and Japan examine various types of social networks and informal care supports for various groups of at-risk seniors. These include: the relationship between social participation and longevity in very-old community-residing seniors in Japan; those with varying levels of cognitive impairments in Sweden who are at risk of nursing home admission, community-dwelling elders who live alone in Sweden but participate in neighborhood meeting places who are at risk for social isolation; and social support through community meeting places for older persons in south Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina. As all of these societies age, and within environments of shrinking economic resources, the role of informal supports for older persons at risk is a critical component of maintaining independence and dignity of persons in late life. This project takes a variety of cultural and need settings and examines them through a common lens of social ties, utilizing the theory of social networks and social ties by Mark Granovetter. The concept of thin ties, how informal but regular connections with others can prevent loneliness, provide meaning, and delay nursing home admissions, is discussed. Results from both quantitative analyses (n=177 of cognitively impaired persons in Sweden; n=1,500+ in Japan) and qualitative (interview and observation studies in Sweden and the United States) demonstrate the important impact of thin, but significant, social ties on both longevity and quality of life among older persons at risk. The participants of this research group are members of SYSTED, Systems Sciences in Health-Social Services for Elderly and Disabled.

Contact: Karl Hedman