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Social support resources of older adults in rural Canada Open Access


Other title
older adults
Social support
support networks
social networks
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Swindle, Jennifer E.
Supervisor and department
Keating, Norah (Human Ecology)
Examining committee member and department
Koop, Priscilla (Nursing)
Fast, Janet (Human Ecology)
Dosman, Donna (Human Ecology)
Burholt, Vanessa (Applied Social Sciences, University of Wales Swansea)
Northcott, Herb (Sociology)
Strain, Laurel (Sociology)
Department of Human Ecology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Social support is important for health and well-being and has been associated with reduced isolation in rural communities. Support from family and friends may become increasingly important as one ages, and may enable some seniors to remain living in their communities. The purpose of this project was to understand variation in the social support resources of older adults in rural Canada. This included variation in seniors’ social networks, support networks, tasks and services received, and exchange patterns. Methods included secondary analysis of a national telephone survey of adults aged 65 and older residing in rural Canada. Four key findings emerged. First, there was variation in the connections seniors had to family and friends. While some seniors had social networks averaging two people, others had social networks averaging 17. Who is present in social networks sets limits on who can be recruited into the support network. Second, who gets recruited from social networks into support networks varies. On average, social networks comprised 10 people, but support networks averaged three people. Spouses, children, middle-aged and local social network members were most likely to be recruited into support networks. However, recruitment depended on who was available to provide support. Third, not everyone receives support. Findings revealed that 15 percent of seniors who had a social network reported receiving no support, while nine percent who received support had few people who provided help with tasks like housework and shopping. While some of that group may not need support and/or are providing help to others, some seniors may have only one or two people to rely on. Fourth, rural older adults are not passive receivers of support. Many provide a high number of tasks to family and friends, helping build social ties and maintain supportive relationships. These findings point to the need for rural communities to be vigilant about evolving support needs of older residents. If seniors have few people who provide them with support, or if they rely on non-kin, who will provide care if needed? Services will be needed to fill the gap, and these services are not always available in rural areas.
License granted by Jennifer Swindle ( on 2009-09-30T21:26:34Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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