Older adults represent the fastest-growing population segment in the US and many other cities of the Global North (United Nations, 2019), thanks to longer life spans and advancements in medicine. But along with the longer life expectancy come also challenges. Deteriorating physical health, death of a spouse or partner, and living alone make older adults particularly vulnerable to social isolation and loneliness (Victor and Bowling, 2012; see also Volume 4, Chapter Ten). Indeed, the likelihood of living alone increases with age, and this is particularly true for women (Nies and McEwen, 2015). Social isolation often leads to deteriorating mental and physical health (Luanaigh and Lawlor, 2008), including depression, decreases in cognitive functioning, cardiovascular disease, and even mortality (Courtin and Knapp, 2015).
One aspect of counteracting and lessening social isolation is to have opportunities and neighborhood places to go to, to meet, and communicate with others (see also Chapter Eleven, this volume). Being able to walk to the neighborhood grocery store or park not only helps older adults accomplish activities of daily living (ADLs) but also facilitates their social well-being and social needs (Clarke and Gallagher, 2013). Therefore, the built environment – and in particular its public places and ‘third spaces’ – interacts with the social environment (Kweon et al, 1998) and influences older adults’ health and well-being (World Health Organization, 2015).
But the COVID-19 pandemic has been brutal for older adults. Not only has it decimated their lives, but it has also increased the fear among the living of accessing public spaces, thus furthering their social isolation.
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