The social determinants of health (SDOH) are factors that impact a person’s health such as where they live or work, their access to affordable and healthy food, safe housing and quality employment, and educational opportunities. Over a lifetime, these social conditions can support healthy living, but, if these conditions are absent or poor, the result can be chronic disease and ill health.
The SDOH are a major factor in differences in life expectancy between people of different races and ethnicity and between residents of separate parts of a city or state. When older adults experience challenges related to SDOH they are at risk for experiencing adverse health outcomes and higher rates of mortality.
Most adults prefer to remain in the community, rather than live out their lives in institutional settings. To do so successfully, they need supports from family, communities, the health care and public health systems.
The built environment—the structures and outdoor spaces in a community—can either contribute to or compromise the health and well-being of older adults. Environments that provide safe and accessible walking and biking trails, adequate lighting, ramps and other accessibility features for walkers and wheelchairs, can all contribute to a better living environment for all ages.
Suitable and accessible housing is a crucial component for older adult health and well-being. Public health departments can provide resources to older adults as they navigate the many housing options available and can work within their jurisdictions to expand accessibility and supply of housing appropriate for older people.
The COVID-19 pandemic has both highlighted and worsened the impact of social isolation on older adults and families. Public health departments around the country are collaborating with their aging network partners to reduce isolation and loneliness through innovative programs and practices.
Transportation options allow older adults to remain mobile, independent, and active in the community. Public health departments can work with other agencies and community providers to expand these options to ensure older adults can access activity centers, health care facilities, and other places that contribute to their sense of community and productivity.