Social networks in long term care
In 2016, for the first time in human history, older adults will outnumber children, globally. These unprecedented demographic trends have substantial implications for society. One such implication concerns the living arrangements of older adults. A continuing care retirement community (CCRC) or life-care community is considered a residential community to which independent older adults move for the remainder of their lives. Despite the growing popularity of CCRCs and even though CCRCs’ social network characteristics are quite different from those found in the general community, only a few studies have examined these communities’ social networks and none has done this longitudinally. The main objective of the proposed study is to better understand the CCRC’s social context and its relation to one’s health. Using a longitudinal design, the study evaluates changes in health and social networks over time, applying a full network approach to data collection (i.e., all CCRC residents are recruited to the study). Four CCRCs of similar characteristics will make the study population in order to replicate the analyses and, thus, extend the boundaries of the findings. We expect that a total of 800-880 CCRC residents will be interviewed about their health and social networks, using face-to-face interviews over three time periods, spaced about one-year apart. Theoretically, the study is expected to contribute to the convoy model of social relations by better characterizing changes in the social network over time and population characteristics. The study will contribute to the growing debate regarding the health-social network nexus and identify specific barriers to good health and social engagement. Methodologically, the study is designed to compare two types of social networks measures: one that relies on the reports of the entire network (i.e., sociocentric) and one that relies on reports of focal persons concerning the characteristics of the individuals with whom they are connected (i.e., alters; an egocentric network with alter connections). Such a comparison will assist in the future design of social network studies and in the interpretation of existing social network research. Policy-wise, the study is likely to point to CCRC characteristics, which promote more favorable health and social network outcomes. Capitalizing on this information, the proposed study will identify potential areas for intervention to enhance older adults’ health and social network. This study is designed to provide a refined response to these vital theoretical, methodological, and health-policy issues with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of older adults.