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Is it possible today to have the kind of community where olderadults can stay in their rural communities, know and help eachother as an extended family, experience a feeling of security,come together for social activities, and share a common interestin maintaining their living space?


Older adults in rural communities want to stay in their home communitieswhere their children were raised, land was tilled, lifetime friendsremain, and sense of "home" exists. However, housingin rural America remains a concern. Many older adults expressa desire to live in their own homes but services are not alwaysavailable and many homes are not safe or functional for olderadults in aging years. Housing for older adults in rural communitiesremains a dilemma and influences the quality of life of thesesame older adults. Rural cooperative housing is a housing alternativefor older adults and this study provides a foundation and a frameworkfor communities examining this option.

The older adult population has tripled since 1900 and the mostrapid increase is predicted to occur between the years 2010 and2030 when the "baby boomers" reach 65. This suggeststhat the American population is getting older and the number increasingat a rapid pace. The demand for more and better housing optionshas surfaced as a major older adult issue. Alarmingly, there islittle evidence that adequate senior housing options have increasedappropriately.

Improving the living environments of older adults is underwayin some states. However, several gaps in the knowledge and researchon the living environments of older adults remain untouched. Stevens-Longand Commons (1992) indicated that at the time of the writing oftheir book, Adult Life, no correlationalresearch existed on satisfaction of elderly living in conventional,condominium, cooperative, or mobile housing. Studies of housingprojects and developed communities suggest that life satisfactionand social behavior are positively correlated to one's environment.Research incorporating housing and a physical health variablehave shown contrasting results; positive effects and no evidenceof improvement (Dorfman, Heckert, Hill & Kohout, 1988; Hong& Duff, 1994; O'Brien, Hassinger & Dershem, 1994). Satisfactionwith home is distinct from, but related to attachment to place;the way in which lives and environmental features are subjectivelyintertwined (Stevens-Long and Commons, 1992). Research is beginningto identify the variables that relate to home and quality of life.

Purpose and Objectives of the Study

The problem of providing viable, functional housing options contributingto quality living for the older rural adults continues to be anintractable and crucial question. It invites much attention andrequires serious consideration for older adults in their agingyears, the communities involved in providing living communitiesfor their older adult population, and the political arena committedto the policy making of older adult housing issues. The purposeof this study was to describe the quality of life of older adultsliving in rural cooperative housing. The following objectiveswere identified to lend direction and strength to several interestscurrently being explored:

1. Identify the reasons why older adults choose to move to cooperativehousing.

2. Describe the effects living in rural cooperative housing hason older adults.

3. Describe the personal characteristics of older adults livingin rural cooperative housing.

4. Determine the quality of life of the HOMESTEAD residents.

The argument in support of the research--the quality of life ofolder adults living in rural cooperative housing-- offers manyimplications in older adult research. Identifying the variablesthat correlate to quality of life helps gerontologists predictthe future social and life temperament of the older adult population.Will cooperative living facilitate satisfying retirement yearsfor older adults? When the rural dimension is introduced, willthe issue of where to house rural older adults come into play?These questions will be concerns older adults, gerontologists,community developers, and policy makers will need to explore inintegrating rural older adults into local communities, increasingthe quality of life, maintaining social structures, encouragingindependence, and preserving "rurality".

Procedures and Methods

This study used a descriptive qualitative and quantitative researchdesign that examined the quality of life of older adults livingin rural cooperative housing. It examined relationships and identifiedthe qualities that existed among a set of variables within a populationof older adults. Seven rural older adult cooperative housing unitsexist in the United States and each belonged to the same cooperativeorganization-- HOMESTEAD Housing Centers. A list of HOMESTEADresidents was secured from the HOMESTEAD Housing Center, InverGrove Heights, Minnesota. The mailing list was comprised of 163individuals comprising a homogeneous, census population of olderadults living in rural older adult cooperative housing. All olderadults with a HOMESTEAD residence were included in the study.A 93% response rate (N=151) was obtained after four mailing waves.

Focus group interviews were conducted with residents at HOMESTEAD,St. James and HOMESTEAD, Springfield. All residents at these twosites were invited to participate in focus group interviews: 38accepted the invitation. Focus group interviews were initiatedprior to the sending of the mail questionnaire.

A mail questionnaire was designed and tested for reliability andvalidity. The instrument was tested for stability by test-retestreliability to determine if the same results were obtained fromthe same subjects over a period of time. Content validity wasassessed by a panel of experts and final instrument reflect revisions.

Three themes were addressed in the questionnaire: housing, qualityof life, and personal characteristics. Questions 1-6 requestedinformation about previous housing. Question 7-9 related to whetherrespondents liked or disliked rural cooperative housing and ifthey would recommend cooperative housing to other older adults.Questions 10-21 addressed factors that influenced the decisionto move to HOMESTEAD housing and these eleven questions were summatedto acquire a "Cooperative Value" which was utilizedin the data analysis. A "Quality of Life" value wasobtained by summating questions 22-30 which surveyed quality oflife issues. Questions 31, 32, and 44 were open-ended questionsinviting the respondent to express what they liked most, least,or general comments about HOMESTEAD living and their quality oflife.

Conjectures for the study were made based on the descriptive statisticsand the compilation of the focus group interview scripts. Pearsonproduct-moment correlations were calculated to determine the amountand direction of relationships between selected variables.

Major Conclusions

Data analysis was summarized by research objective and the majorconclusions are reported in the same format as in Chapter 4.

Objective 1: Identify the reasons why older adults choose tolive in cooperative housing. It was evident that the olderadults were not attracted to these cooperative communities becausethey were concerned about their frailty or because they were greatlydissatisfied with their previous homes. In fact, many of theseHOMESTEAD residents did

not have intolerable housing problems. But a complaint consistentlyshared throughout the interviews and on the mail questionnaireswas the oversized home that was too expensive, time consumingor exhausting to maintain. For once in their lifetime these olderadults were free to choose a late-in-life home meeting their personal,social, and psychological needs.

The variable that surfaced as the main influencing factor in selectingcooperative housing was "easier maintained home". Thisresult paralleled the findings in a study by Lawton and Hoover(1981) on community housing choices for older Americans. In addition,but not to the degree, variables "staying in the community";"help close by"; "handicapped accessible";"better financial investment"; and, "voice in theoperation" all had a major influence in the housing selectionprocess. Other studies addressing housing decisions for the agingpopulation in rural America provided similar results (Rowles,1983; Coward & Lee, 1985; Stevens-Long & Commons, 1992;Bull, 1993).

Re-occurring themes in the focus group interviews were "questfor an easier life", "home-free maintenance", and"cooperative spirit". Statements that reflected thesethemes were:

" ... It's comforting to know that my home maintenance istaken care of. I own my home and I don't have to work so hardat taking care of it."

" ... You do things cooperatively here and it cost less.We could not afford to live in a place like this individually;but, cooperatively we can. There are 16 of us paying for snowremoval, lawn care, electricity, utilities, cable TV, etc. Jointly,we pay a ridiculous low rate."

The attraction to these smaller size, easier-to-maintain, costefficient homes allowed the older adults to remain active andindependent in their home community. The disengagement and activityaging theories lend support to this conjecture on housing selectionfor older adults. The disengagement theory proclaimed older adultswere happiest and most successful when they acknowledged theirdeclining capabilities and began to prepare for their last stageof life. Whereas, the activity theory assumption was to remainan active, independent player in the latter years of life.

Overwhelming agreement occurred among the HOMESTEAD residentswhen a fellow resident exclaimed, "HOMESTEAD is more thana type of housing; we are building a community. It is a styleof life!" The key to fostering a sense of community is toprovide places where neighboring can occur naturally (Kane &Monk, 1991). Neighboring at HOMESTEAD occurred where people wereattracted on a regular basis such as mailboxes, community room,hallway and entrance to the facility.

Objective 2: Describe the effects living in rural cooperativehousing has on older adults. The quality of life was assessedfor the older adults living at HOMESTEAD.

Several variables showed an effect on the life quality of thecooperative residents: safety, happiness, life satisfaction, friendcontact, ease in maintaining home, activities, and independence.The focus group interviews revealed similar responses:

" ... I have lived in this community for many, many years.I feel comfortable here. It is where my friends are. Your childrencan move several times and be so far away, but my friends, theyremain here with me."

" ... We are a sociable group here and many of us have somuch in common. "

" ... My neighbors are my extended family; they take careof me and look after me."

" ... I am completely satisfied with my life. It's the bestliving we've ever had. Ever had, and I thought we werecomfortable before we lived in here but it's nothing comparedto this. No, people say, it's tough to get old; but, at no timein our life have we ever had it any better."

Studies based on existing theories and findings in gerontologysupport these findings (Havighurst, Neugarten, & Tobin, 1968;Palmore, 1970; Duff & Hong, 1982, 1993). These theories contendedthat variables such as community context, quantity and/or qualityof social interactions are vital to the life satisfaction of olderadults.

Older adults in age-segregated settings literally create theirown world surrounded by others who value their worth and are moresensitive to the growing old process (Roscow, 1967). The HOMESTEADcommunities attended to each other's needs and wants. Health problemscame to the attention of neighbors with conversation such as "Gracewas feeling tired yesterday; we will need to stop by this afternoonto see if she is okay."

An age-homogenous housing option, similar to HOMESTEAD, allowsolder adults the opportunities for friendships with persons havingsimilar life concerns and backgrounds. However, caution must bemade not to assume all individuals 65 years and older are similar.Certainly a 65 year resident will have differences in life stylewhen compared with his 85 year old neighbor.

Objective 3: Describe the personal characteristics of olderadults living in rural cooperative housing. The profile demographicsof the residents of HOMESTEAD are 69% female, 46% married, 43%with a salary between $20,000 - $39,999 and an education levelof high school or higher (62%). Forty-eight percent lived in theirprevious home at least 26 years within 12 miles of HOMESTEAD (83%).This latter characteristic reinforced the theoretical models oncommunity attachment. The linear-development model (Kasarda &Janowitz, 1974) theorized population size and population densityare key variables in community attachment. The systemic model(Park & Burgess, 1921; Janowitz, 1967) emphasized the lengthof residence, position in the social structure, and stage in lifewere influencing factors in the community attachment theory.

Objective 4: Determine the quality of life of the HOMESTEADresidents. The quality of life dimension among the HOMESTEADresidents boasted high scores. The mean score was 6.7 with a standarddeviation of 2.7. Sixty-eight percent scored a quality of lifevalue between 4.0 and 9.4.

The cooperative dimension, likewise, scored high among the subjectsof the study. This dimension measured the variables influencingthe decision to select cooperative housing. The mean score of11.9 and standard deviation of 5.0 indicates that 68% of the respondentsscored a cooperative value between 6.9 and 16.9.

The focus group interviews showed strong relationships betweenthe cooperative living component and the quality of life componentwith such statements like:

" ... I think the main reason we moved here was because weknew sooner or later we were going to lose our spouse. This isan ideal place to continue to live a pretty normal life."

" ... My story is about like Vivan's. I was out on the farm,you know and just couldn't handle getting to town in the wintertimeso then I talked to the real estate agent here and he said HOMESTEADwas going to be built, I signed up for it right away."

" ... We are all growing old together here at HOMESTEAD andliking it - I thought I would never say that!"

The studies on age-segregated housing lend support to these findings.Factors such as independence, friendships, services, and safetyoften surfaced as high indicators of life satisfaction among theolder adult residents in age-segregated housing (Sherman, 1972;Lawton & Cohen, 1974; Carp, 1975; Malozemoff, Anderson &Rosenbaum, 1977; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,1979; Chellis, Seagle & Seagle, 1982; Golant, 1985; Hinrichsen,1985). Golant (1982) suggested that retirement communities offeredtheir occupants a relatively unchanging, ordered, and predictablesetting and life-style. Therefore, the sense of certainty HOMESTEADoffers may be valued highly, especially in a society perceivedas rapidly changing and sometimes intolerant of its older adultpopulation.

Future Research Prospects and Potential Implications for ExtensionEducation

  • Rural cooperative housing for older adults is a relativelynew concept and has stimulated little research. Future research,therefore, needs to address the implication rural cooperativehousing has on older adults over time.

  • There has been research confirming the positive effect ofage-segregated housing on quality of life. The type of researchnow needed should address changes in life quality over a longerperiod of time. Longitudinal studies will provide this data base.

  • Yet another researchable issue is the effect of varying degreesof homogeneity among residents at housing sites. Homogeneity mayrelate to demographics, independence, or health and poses thequestion--does this diversity among older adults complicate thequality of life issue?

  • A longitudinal study may be beneficial to examine the maintenanceof social relationships in age-segregated housing and if thereis any impact on the quality of life among these social systems.

  • If, in fact, more age-segregated housing becomes availablefor the aging population, what will be the implications on futurehousing patterns? Demographers show a plateau and then a declinein older adult population once the baby boomers progress throughthe aging process.

  • There is a need for more comparison research focusing on thelife quality variables of older adults living in cooperative housingversus more traditional housing options.

  • Does the "rurality" issue play a vital part in housingolder adults in rural America? Further research needs to focuson the community attachment component and how it relates to ruralolder adults.

  • If older adults seek living options away from their ruralcommunities, what implications will this have on maintaining theolder leadership structures and the stability of the rural America.Research can focus on the benefits of aging in place and how itrelates to the community development issues, intergenerationalissues, and agricultural issues.

  • A thorough examination of research tools must be made to insureage-sensitivity and the absence of ageism. Future research couldconfront these two major concerns and the relationship they haveon reliable and valid research. Are there separate ageism andage sensitive constraints with rural versus urban populations?

  • Further research needs to be directed to the rural older adultpopulations. If in fact, rural older adults do have stronger lifesatisfaction when allowed to "age in place", what implicationsdoes this have for care givers, community developers and olderadults.

  • Research should be conducted examining the family and socialecosystem relationships on the rural cooperative housing issue.Are relationships strengthened when older adults voluntarily selectage-segregated housing?


    Future housing for rural older adults should take into considerationthe needs of the current generation of the "young-old","middle-old" and "old-old" adult population.Housing policy and programs for older adults have tended to getless attention than income security and health care. There area number of reasons to explain this phenomenon. From one perspective,an adequate income should make it possible for an individual toselect suitable housing or maintain existing housing. From anotherperspective, many older adults may and do live with relatives,so that housing is not an urgent need to be met. The trend isto improve the quality of life among older adults by addressingtheir housing needs through existing communities and neighborhoodsrather than through the experimentation of new housing concepts(Newcomer, Lawton & Byerts, 1986).

    Quality of life for rural older adults does present some implications.Is it possible to measure a construct so complex? This researcherthinks yes if we continue to respect its complexity. Althoughfinancial well-being, independence, and good health have repeatedlyshown direct correlations with one's quality of life, other factorssuch as adequate housing, social networks and community servicesalso surface as important (Nelson, 1980; Rubenstein, 1989; Pastalan,1990).

    Although gerontologists, community developers, and older adultssometimes disagree among themselves as to the model living arrangementfor the aging population, they all tend to agree that certaincharacteristics for older adult housing are necessary for theimproved quality of living in their home communities: access tocommunity, medical, and recreational services; safe and secureenvironment; privacy; and social interaction. A five mile proximityof community services deemed most important by older adults choosinghousing alternatives were a church, shopping area, restaurant,and common area for socializing (Nolan & Nolan, 1996).

    Will cooperative housing for the older adult be the wave of thefuture in rural America? Probably not. But to many in rural Minnesotaand rural Iowa it is the quality of living they had hoped forin their aging years. Reasons to move into housing for the olderadult or retirement community often center around concern withone's ability to continue to cope with the demands of regularhousing or, at the least, a disinterest in spending one's timein such pursuits (Lawton & Hoover, 1981). The decision tomove is focused on trading off a certain amount of freedom plusa considerable amount of drain on one's energy and time for aplace that can care for the person at varied levels dependingon the individual's ability, wants and desires; but yet stillmaintain control of one's environment. In other words, the cooperativehousing concept attracts individuals or couples because what itoffers to rural communities is not generally available elsewhere.Safety, security, social interaction, independence, and freedomfrom maintenance chores are predominant benefits gained from cooperativehousing.

    The older adults living in rural cooperatives expressed a feelingof being pushed away from their previous housing due to the feelingof danger, worry about being unnoticed if in trouble, social isolation,pressing housing issues, and environmental demands. In any case,the choice is being made to go to a housing situation that ismore nurturing; where both the resident and the housing corporationmerge together in the care process of each partner. HOMESTEADresidents reported a better quality of life (66%) when comparedto their previous home; 94% would recommend HOMESTEAD housingoption; and 98% would move to HOMESTEAD if making the decisionagain.

    On the flip side, many older persons do not want to be identifiedas among the old; nor do they want to be continually surroundedonly by persons of their own age. They associate old age witha loss of social status, low prestige, low self-esteem, andincompetence (Roscow, 1967). The following statements suggestedthis view from some segments of the local communities surroundingHOMESTEAD:

    " ... people think HOMESTEAD is some sort of nursing home."

    " ... some people say, those people at HOMESTEAD have toomany cliques and no outside interests."

    A question that needs to be addressed but answers are yet to bedetermined: how long will the cooperative concept be the appropriatechoice for its residents? The concept is relatively new and inonly the third year of operation at HOMESTEAD. This study revealedthat 70% of the HOMESTEAD residents lived previously in a smalltown or farming community within 12 miles of HOMESTEAD (82%) forat least a period of 26 - 40 years (45%). Findings support thetwo theoretical models of community attachment: the linear-developmentmodel and the systemic model. The linear-development model (Kasardaand Janowitz 1974) indicated population size and population densityas key variables in determining community attachment. Whereas,the systemic model (Park & Burgess 1921; Janowitz, 1967) emphasizedlength of residence, position in the social structure, and stagein the life cycle as important variables in community attachment.A considerable number of studies on older adult satisfaction havefocused on the comparison between quality of life and communityattachment to city, suburban, or rural areas. More recent studieshave documented that community attachment does influence laterlife decisions and the well-being variables among older persons(Klein, 1993; Hong & Duff, 1994; O'Brien, Hassinger, &Dershem, 1994).

    Once one moves into a cooperative housing situation, he or shemay not remain independent or in good health. An issue in an age-specializedfacility is that the general, average level of health and personalcompetence declines over time. Therefore, does this housing optionfor the older adult allow one then to age in place? The answerto these concerns are, not surprisingly, "yes and no".For many older adults, their personal competence levels neverdecline below a point that remains in a match with those livingin the same location (Stevens-Long & Commons, 1992). However,there may become a point in time when an individual can not remain"in place" depending on the characteristics of the place.At HOMESTEADS, an assisted-living care is not available. Sooneror later, it may be necessary to relocate to an environment withanother level of service.

    The main objective in the research study is that, yes, there isa positive quality of life among the older adults living in ruralcooperative housing. This housing option does satisfy some veryimportant physical, social, and psychological needs for this segmentof the older adult population (Figure 3-1).

    Whatever forms older adult housing projects take, they share manysimilar characteristics:


    In summary, further research needs to be directed to the ruralolder adult populations. The argument in support of the research- are there correlations between the factors thatinfluence rural older adults to select rural cooperative livingand quality of life variables - offers many implications in olderadult research. Identifying the variables that correlate to qualityof life helps gerontologists predict the future social and lifetemperament of the older adult population. Will cooperative livingfacilitate satisfying retirement years for older adults? Whenthe rural dimension is introduced, will the issue of where tohouse rural older adults come into play? These questions willbe concerns older adults, gerontologists, community developers,and policy makers will need to explore in integrating rural olderadults to local communities, increasing the quality of life, maintainingsocial structures, encouraging independence, and preserving "rurality".

    " ... I was born here in Springfield and I am going to diehere in Springfield!"

    " ... We are growing old gracefully with all our friends.What a Life!"

    " ... Mom absolutely loved HOMESTEAD and wished she had gonelong before she did rather than staying alone on her farm. Itis a wonderful housing concept. She has recently died; but, Iam comforted to know her last few years of life were so enjoyable!

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