Irish Centre for Social Gerontology, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
Background: Community living encompasses the elements of living independently and
being included in the community. Community living is also firmly rooted in the notion of
interdependence, of which social interaction is a central component. Older people experiencing
disability are susceptible to compounded challenges in maintaining meaningful
community living in the face of changing needs and circumstances. Policy responses must
be cognisant of what community living actually means, thereby enhancing the dignity and
independence of the person in order to maximise their wellbeing and social interaction.
Methods: In order to gain a better understanding of what community living means at
the intersection of ageing and disability, qualitative interviews were conducted with twenty
older people living in the community with a physical or cognitive disability. The interviews
followed a narrative style so as to allow the participants’ voice to lead the discussion.
This paper presents results of analysis of these interviews.
Results: The participants conceptualised community living as refracted through their
lived experiences of ageing with a disability. The narratives that emerged from the interviews
revealed participants who were deeply grounded in a sense of identity derived from
their community and their perceived role within that community. A strong thread of
resilience linked the individual experiences. The importance of social interaction to overall
wellbeing was strongly emphasised.
Conclusions: Policy discourse in ageing and disability increasingly focuses on supporting
both cohorts to live independently and be included in the community. To be successful,
policies must address the individual realities and particular needs of the people for whom
they are enacted. In developing and delivering effective community living initiatives, it is
important to understand what exactly community living means for older people ageing
with disabilities. This is particularly important in light of a growing older population,
many of whom will come to experience disability.