The Importance of Neighborhood Quality for People with Chronic Illness

The quality of one’s social and physical environment has an important influence on well-being, particularly for older adults with a chronic illness. Neighborhood characteristics—such as safety, transportation, stores, and the availability of places to walk—can have a huge influence on the activity levels of people with physical ailments. A recently published study of older adults with chronic health conditions in the city of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada identifies neighborhood characteristics that were associated with participation in satisfying activities.

The study was based on a survey of 248 older adults with chronic medical conditions, living in Hamilton. The survey asked participants a variety of questions about themselves—their participation in satisfying activities, any depressive or physical health symptoms—and about their social support. The researchers also had information about the neighborhood of each participant, and assessed each neighborhood on amenities (like places to shop and public transit), problems (such as traffic and air quality), safety, and cohesion between neighbors. The researchers then examined how these various neighborhood, individual, and social factors influenced participation in satisfying activities, measuring how these variables influenced one another

Within this sample, neighborhood amenities and safety each had a direct effect on participation satisfaction, as did social support and the participants’ depressive and physical symptoms. Other neighborhood characteristics had an indirect effect on participation, by their influence on the neighborhoods’ social cohesion and participants’ social networks.

This study differed from earlier studies on neighborhood and participation in activities with its focus on participant satisfaction with the activities they were involved in, and by considering the influence of social support on the relationship between neighborhood and satisfaction. It supports the notion that increasing the availability of neighborhood resources and improving safety are important priorities for the well-being of older adults with chronic illnesses, and that the quality of one’s neighborhood may have a significant effect on one’s social network.


Hand C, Law M, et al. Neighbourhood influences on participation in activities among older adults with chronic health conditions. Health & Place; (2012).18(4):869-876.

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