May 15, 2014

Contact: Veronica Mikitka Reed, For PHMC, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 215.434.7194

Data highlights that older adults who live alone don't have a feeling of community and belonging, and are more likely to experience signs of depression

PHILADELPHIA— More than one-third (33.6%) of Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) adults (65+) live alone, according to data from the 2012 Southeastern Pennsylvania Household Health Survey, a survey conducted by Public Health Management Corporation's (PHMC's) Center for Data Innovation. Among older adults who live alone, nearly 20 percent experience signs of major depression. Living alone is an important indicator of social isolation, as are feelings of community and neighborhood safety, belonging and togetherness.

These data are significant in light of Older American Month, an annual campaign created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Community Living to recognize older Americans and provide them with information to help them stay healthy and active. PHMC affiliate, Caring People Alliance addresses this issue in SEPA through the Caring Paws Animal-Assisted Therapy program, which provides therapeutic and educational programming to homebound seniors in over 40 facilities. The therapy addresses the isolation and disconnect from society that older adults often experience, including loneliness, helplessness, depression and self-worth, through connections and the love they receive from animals.

"For the past 17 years, I've been able to see first-hand just how much animals can impact the lives of older adults who live alone," said Marjorie Shoemaker, Director of Caring Paws. "From a 90 year-old with dementia who lived for visits from our guinea pigs to seniors at an adult day center that had a facility dog that responded to their needs, the program positively impacts the lives of seniors."
The SEPA Household Health Survey data below focuses on key household, neighborhood, safety and overall well-being factors affecting older adults 65 years of age and older.

The Older Adult Population in the Region

  • There are approximately 578,500 adults 65 years of age and older in the SEPA region, according to 2013 U.S. Census updates.
  • Of the five counties, Montgomery County has the largest percentage of older adults (15.9%), followed by Bucks (15.7%), Delaware (15.0%), Chester (13.8%), and Philadelphia (12.7%) Counties.

Living Alone

One-third of adults 65 years of age and older live alone (33.6%) across the SEPA region.

  • The percentage of older adults living alone is highest in Philadelphia County (39.3%) followed by Montgomery (35.5%), Bucks (29.4%), Delaware (29.0%) and Chester (26.0%) Counties.
  • Women 65 years of age and older are more likely to live alone (37.8%) compared to men (27.3%).
  • Nearly half of older adults living below 100% of the Federal Poverty Level live alone (47.7%) compared to approximately one-third of adults at or above 100% of the Federal Poverty Level (32.3%).
  • In addition, nearly half of older adults who are Latino live alone (47.8%) compared to four in ten black adults (39.0%) and about one-third of white adults (31.9%).
  • Older adults who live alone are more likely to experience signs of major depression (19.0%) compared to adults who do not live alone (11.9%). Major depression is defined as experiencing four or more depressive symptoms according to a 10-item depression scale.

Safety, Neighborhood and Community Factors

Feelings of Safety in One's Neighborhood

  • While 5.4 percent of older adults (65+) across the SEPA region did not go somewhere during the day in the past month because they felt unsafe, this percentage is twice as high in Philadelphia County (10.6%).
  • This percentage is one-tenth or greater among older adults living below 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (13.7%) and among Latino (12.0%) and black (10.2%) older adults.

Access to Outdoor Space

  • Older adults in Philadelphia County are the most likely NOT to have a park or outdoor space they are comfortable visiting (38.7%) compared to Delaware (31.5%), Chester (28.0%), Montgomery (26.8%) and Bucks (25.8%) Counties.
  • Women who are 65 years of age or older are more likely NOT to have a comfortable park or outdoor space to visit (34.1%) in comparison to 27.3 percent of men.
  • This percentage is highest among black older adults (42.2%) compared to 29.3 percent of white and 27.0 percent of Latino adults.

Feelings of Neighborhood Togetherness

  • When looking at adults 65 years of age and older, those living in Bucks County are more likely NOT to work with their neighbors on improvement projects (59.4%) compared to older adults in Montgomery (54.7%), Delaware (50.5%), Chester (49.6%) and Philadelphia (35.2%) Counties.
  • In addition, when looking at race/ethnicity, nearly six in ten Latino adults (57.1%) and half of white adults (51.7%) do NOT work with their neighbors compared to 28.6% percent of black adults.

Feelings of Neighborhood Belonging

  • Older adults (65+) in Philadelphia County are the most likely to disagree or strongly disagree that they feel they belong and are part of their neighborhood (11.5%); Delaware County has the smallest percentage of older adults who disagree/strongly disagree they belong in their neighborhood (6.3%).
  • Older adults who are living below 100% of the Federal Poverty are twice as likely to feel they do not belong in their neighborhood (17.4%) compared to those at or above the Federal Poverty Level (8.8%).

Participation in Neighborhood Organizations

  • More than half of Philadelphia older adults (65+) do NOT participate in any local groups or neighborhood organizations (53.5%). This percentage is lowest in Chester County with 35.5 percent of older adults not participating in neighborhood groups.
  • Older adults living below 100 percent of the Federal Poverty Line are more likely not to participate in local groups (54.3%) compared to those at or above the Federal Poverty Level (44.2%).
  • In addition, more than half of black older adults do not participate in neighborhood organizations (52.6%) in comparison to white (43.9%) and Latino (33.6%) older adults.

These household, neighborhood and community factors are important social determinants of health and can have a significant impact on the overall well-being of older adults, many of whom have additional health-related needs. As the older adult population in our region, state and across the country grows, it is critical to raise awareness around the disparities and outstanding needs experienced by older adults.

The Household Health Survey is conducted by telephone and includes 10,000 households in the SEPA region (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties). For more information about these findings, contact Sarah Ingerman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or to learn about success stories from Caring Paws Animal-Assisted Therapy program, contact Marjorie Shoemaker at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

About Public Health Management Corporation Center for Data Innovation
Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) is a nonprofit public health institute that creates and sustains healthier communities. The Center for Data Innovation includes the Community Health Data Base (CHDB) and its Household Health Survey, one of the largest regional health surveys in the country. The Pew Charitable Trusts, William Penn Foundation, United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania, United Way of North Penn, Green Tree Community Health Foundation, North Penn Community Health Foundation, Thomas Scattergood Foundation, Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation, and over 350 local agencies from the health, government, nonprofit and academic sectors, help to support the CHDB and survey. For more information visit

About Caring People Alliance
Caring People Alliance, a PHMC affiliate and member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, has been serving children, youth, families, and older adults in the Philadelphia area for more than 80 years. We offer a wide range of programs and services through our three community centers – the R.W. Brown Community Center in North Philadelphia, Boys & Girls Clubs/CPA South Philadelphia & Marconi Older Adult Program in South Philadelphia, and the West Philadelphia Community Center in West Philadelphia. Additionally, our Child Care Information System (CCIS), a day care subsidy program, serves families across south and west Philadelphia County.

Caring People Alliance strives to empower Philadelphia children and youth to become positive citizens, decision makers and leaders by providing them, their families and their elders with high quality, community-based programs and services that promote character building, educational achievement, healthy lifestyles, and teamwork. For more information visit