Health inequalities for older populations in rural and coastal areas

Older people comprise a large and growing segment of the population of rural and coastal areas. The population aged 65+ will grow by around 50% in rural areas by 2039 with a negligible growth in population under 65, which will increase the ratio of older to younger people. With this ageing population comes both opportunities and challenges. Ageing, at a biological level, is the gradual accumulation of a wider variety of molecular and cellular damage. However, the experience of ageing is diverse, with some people having good physical and mental health whilst others are frail. How we age is strongly influenced by the environment and behaviours of the individual. The way in which we age, and experience this, is determined by both positive and negative influences on our lives.


To inform strategic planning, service design and commissioning, as well as the development of local community infrastructure, in August 2019 Public Health England produced a review of Health Inequalities for Older Populations in Rural and Coastal Areas. The publication provides evidence on the health inequalities experienced by older populations in coastal and rural areas, together with a summary of key considerations to reduce inequalities and promote healthy ageing in these areas. It comprises a literature review supplemented with case studies, and brings together a range of information in one place with links to published research to:

  • build knowledge and an evidence base within the health and care system, including local authorities and other organisations, of the key health inequality issues for older populations in rural and coastal areas
  • support and promote the implementation of considerations to address health inequalities experienced by older people in rural and coastal areas


The case studies below are based on published literature together with in-depth qualitative interviews carried out by Northumbria University with the research teams that developed the examples. Ethical approval for qualitative interview based case studies was granted by the University of Northumbria in December 2018 (ref:13201).


Age UK: Social isolation and outreach in coastal areas
Age UK provide a range of services for those in coastal areas to support daily living which are important in areas of high deprivation.

Dance to Health
Dance to Health has given older people somewhere to meet new people and develop personal relationships.

Dementia Friendly Communities
Rural/Coastal Dementia Friendly Communities are particularly important to overcome social isolation.

Men’s Sheds
Men’s Sheds and other social activity initiatives show evidence of effectiveness of influencing health and wellbeing amongst for older men.

Mobile Me
Mobile Me provides an effective model of fun, accessible, social activity as a gateway into physical activity for older, inactive people.

Stepping into Nature
Critical themes to improve access to Dorset’s natural landscape to provide activities for older people are: access; inclusion; innovation.

Village Services
Village services have an important role in enabling access to broader services and in encouraging social interaction and addressing social isolation. However, providers need to find innovative ways of engaging older men in rural areas, as older men are reluctant to engage with village services.

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Last Updated on 16th June 2023 by rgledhill

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