Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.


Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences

Committee Chair

LaJoie, Andrew Scott

Author's Keywords

Mental health; Social capital; Assisted living


Nursing home patients--Mental health; Nursing home patients--Psychology; Nursing homes--Psychological aspects; Congregate housing


Along the continuum of poor to good health, mental well-being refers to the positive state of being. Mental well-being connotes the ability to manage stress, maintain independence, and is indicative of happiness and improved quality of life. Mental well-being is critical to overall health throughout the lifespan, but it is of particular importance in the context of healthy aging since older adults are more likely to experience compromised mental health. Existing research has identified factors that reduce the risk of poor mental health outcomes: the built environment and individual and community social capital are associated with overall health status and the incidence of mental illness. This study explores the relationship between these variables and mental wellness, currently a gap in the literature. This dissertation assessed the roles of social capital and the built environment on promoting and maintaining positive mental health, specifically for assisted living residents. The study utilized a quantitative design to determine if built environment quality, community social capital and individual social connectedness were predictive of mental well-being. Site audits were used to assess built environment quality surrounding twelve assisted living facilities in Greater Louisville. Of these twelve sites, six authorized individual interviews with their residents, and subsequently 76 individuals were surveyed. Social connectedness explained about 15% of the variance in mental well-being. For older adults, knowing people who can provide them with resources or favors is predictive of increased happiness and enhanced mental well-being. Although built environment quality did not emerge as a meaningful variable for predicting mental well-being, social connectedness and social capital explained about 27% of the variance in mental well-being. In addition to the resources they may know, increased perceptions of community trust and reciprocity are associated with increased mental well-being for older adults. In this regard, social capital and social connectedness are important predictors of mental wellness for older adults residing in assisted living communities. Beyond reducing the risk of illness, this study demonstrates that social capital and social connectedness are associated with mental wellness. In light of this, assisted living communities should evaluate the impact of their activities and programmatic offerings on resident social capital. Every effort should be made to help residents maintain their pre-existing community ties as well as forge new relationships.