Social Isolation and Safety Issues among Rural Older Adults Living Alone: Perspectives of Meals on Wheels Programs

Carrie Henning-Smith, Mariana K Tuttle, Jill B Tanem, Katie Jantzi, Erika Kelly, L. Carter Florence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Ensuring the safety and social well-being of rural populations, especially rural older adults living alone with complex medical conditions, is challenging, given large, sparsely populated communities and limited resources. Using qualitative data from surveys with 42 rural Meals on Wheels programs from across the U.S., we highlight particular challenges to meeting the social and safety needs of rural older adults living alone. Respondents described challenges, opportunities, and successes in meeting the needs of their clients. We describe these under four domains: main challenges, what can be done to address social isolation and loneliness, safety issues, improving safety, and current successes. We also identify cross-cutting themes related to programs’ rural environment (long distances, inclement weather), infrastructure (housing quality, access to broadband Internet and technological connectivity, road conditions), funding and resource availability, and service provision (availability of health care and partner organizations.) We describe each of these in more detail and also share policy recommendations for improving health and safety of older adults living alone in rural areas, including funding nutrition programs as a health benefit and addressing aging, poor-quality housing stock.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)282-301
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Aging and Social Policy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the Meals on Wheels staff who responded to the survey for their time and effort. This study was supported by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP), Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under PHS Grant No. 5U1CRH03717.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Taylor & Francis.


  • Rural health
  • aging
  • housing
  • social determinants of health
  • social isolation and loneliness

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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