What Happens When Residents Design Their Community’s Social Programming

A recent study investigated how to implement resident-led social programs in low-income senior housing.

The researchers started a program in 10 low-income 55+ communities in the Netherlands, for which a handful of residents and staff were trained to implement social activities in their community. The activities were designed to help residents make new friends, such as a morning coffee gathering, or to help them engage in group activities, such as walking groups or casual games. An initial survey was completed by 405 residents, and 312 residents completed a follow-up survey after nine months (164 of them completed both surveys). The researchers also interviewed 17 residents from four of the participating communities.

Their findings showed that residents’ quality of life improved after the program was implemented, and participation in organized activities improved slightly, from 62% to 69%. Scores on meaningfulness, self-reliance, and loneliness did not change. The interviews showed that many residents still did not participate in activities due to a variety of reasons, including health problems, lack of interest, or feeling too old or too young for the activity. However, the activities did seem to improve interpersonal connections between residents who did participate. Activity participants began stopping to talk to each other in the hall and even running errands for each other.

One of the goals of implementing this program was to determine if residents can lead and self-organize these types of programs. Unfortunately, many residents were not interested in taking this sort of initiative—they felt they lacked knowledge, were unsure how to recruit others, or felt too old for this responsibility. The residents who were interested in organizing were eager to learn but were unsure where to start. These residents emphasized the value of a professional to help start the program. Once the program was underway, professionals took less of a driving role and focused more on resolving issues or conflicts that arose.

This research shows that resident-led programs can be a low-cost strategy to enhance social engagement in low-income older adult communities, but residents need help getting started and sustainability would also have to be addressed.


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Machielse JEM and Vaart W van der. Improving social quality in housing complexes for older adults: Professional support as a necessary condition. Journal of Aging and Environment (2020); Ahead of print.

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