Cate O'Brien

A five-year study of more than 2,000 life plan community residents by the Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging and Northwestern University will try to determine the effects that living in such a community has on residents’ long-term health and wellness, the institute announced Tuesday.

“Although life plan community residents are routinely asked about their satisfaction with various aspects of their community, to date there has been no large-scale national study that has captured the larger impact of living in a life plan community on health and wellness over such a long time span,” Cate O’Brien, Ph.D., assistant vice president and director of the Evanston, IL-based institute, told McKnight’s Senior Living.

Mather researchers will lead the quantitative survey component of the “Age Well Study,” and Northwestern will contribute to the qualitative component.

“There are a number of reasons to believe the impact is a positive one, most notably that life plan communities offer an opportunity-rich environment with programs, amenities, services and healthcare that support wellness, sense of community and opportunities to find fulfillment,” O’Brien said, “and this study will help to qualify — and quantify — those beliefs.”

The study will measure residents’ self-reported health and wellness metrics through a survey administered every year of the study. Researchers will compare these data to data related to older adults who do not live in life plan communities (also known as continuing care retirement communities or CCRCs). Additionally, a designated manager in each senior living organization will complete an organizational survey once a year.

“The organizational survey focuses on basic organizational characteristics, such as size of the community, type of services offered and resident composition, while the resident survey includes a range of questions on physical, social and emotional well-being, among others,” O’Brien said.

The American Seniors Housing Association, LeadingAge, senior living community manager Life Care Services, Florida retirement community Moorings Park, the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care, and specialty investment bank Ziegler have agreed to recruit at least 50 life plan communities for the study. Each life plan community that would like to participate is expected to commit to recruiting 50 residents to start the study, O’Brien said.

Participating communities and organizations will receive an annual report on the study’s key findings to date related to quality of life, self-reported health and additional health-related measures. Communities where more than 30 residents participate also will receive a one-page brief that is specific to the particular community. At the end of the five years, each participating community will receive a copy of the full report.