Focus Group Report
In order to more fully understand the walking habits, barriers, and needs of older adults in New Jersey, Charles Brown of Equitable Cities, served as a senior researcher/principal investigator with the New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center (NJ BPRC) to conduct three focus groups with this population. A focus group is a type of qualitative research that provides researchers with an opportunity to build on survey data findings in a number of ways. First, by convening a facilitated conversation among seniors with open-ended questions and a series of prompts related to walking, participants have the opportunity to provide deeper insight into their unique walking experiences as older adults, in contrast to simply responding to a survey question. Next, focus groups foster the collection of diverse views on a given topic and encourage participants to discuss issues that researchers may not have thought of as vital to the topic. Finally, the focus group format allows the research team to use photos or other visual aids to help stimulate conversation.
For this study, focus group participants were recruited through the mail survey. The names of those who marked their interest in participating were separated into three distinct groups: residents of Monroe Township living within a gated age- restricted community; residents of Monroe Township living outside a gated community; and residents of Holiday City and several other local age-restricted communities in Toms River/Manchester.
With the growth of older adults due to the aging of the baby boomers and the aging of population in suburban and exurban areas where mobility depends almost exclusively on the automobile, there is a growing concern among transportation planners about the transportation needs and barriers of older adults. The growth of older adults in New Jersey is also substantial, as evident from the fact the share of the population aged 55 or over increased from 22 percent to 28 during the 2000–2016 period. There is also a growing concern among health professionals and researchers that older adults do not walk or participate in physical activities enough despite widespread knowledge that physical activities have a positive effect on health and well-being. With that background, this study sought to fulfill the following objectives in the context of New Jersey:
- Comprehend the walking patterns, needs, and barriers of older adults living in different types of neighborhoods;
- Comprehend their perception of walking needs, barriers, and health benefits from walking;
- Assess the health and well-being of older adults living in different environments;
- Assess the relationship between leisure/exercise and transportation walking and health and well-being of older adults.
- Present recommendations for removing barriers and enhancing walking among older adults with the objective of improving their health and overall well-being.