Experiences of social frailty among rural community-dwelling and assisted-living older adults: a qualitative study

Steven Bunt, Nardi Steverink, Linden Douma, Johannes Hobbelen, Cees van der Schans, Louise Meijerink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although social frailty has been described from a theoretical perspective, the lived experiences of older adults regarding social frailty are yet unknown. In this paper, we aim to (a) gain more in-depth insights into community-dwelling and assisted-living older adults' experiences of social frailty and (b) explore the differences in these experiences between these two groups. We conduct a thematic analysis of 38 interviews with community-dwelling and assisted-living older adults in rural villages the Netherlands. We structure our findings along three overarching themes which highlight different aspects of the social frailty experiences of our participants: (a) present resources and activities to fulfil social needs, (b) resources and activities that have been lost, and (c) how they manage and adapt to changes in resources and activities over time. Loneliness is only reported among the community-dwelling participants, while the loss of mobility and participation in (social) activities is experienced most strongly by the assisted-living participants. These findings challenge the widespread policies and practices of ageing in place. We conclude that for some older adults, living in assisted arrangements is preferred over ageing in place, as doing so can prevent social frailty. The key reason for this is that life in assisted living is likely to bring about new social resources and activities, which may serve to fulfil the social needs of older adults.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)857-877
Number of pages21
JournalAgeing & Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jul 2021


  • social frailty
  • older adults
  • assisted-living
  • community-dwelling
  • rural areas
  • netherlands


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