Residents of life plan communities (also called continuing care retirement communities) reported more healthy behaviors and scored higher on positive measures of emotional, social, physical, intellectual and vocational wellness than did older adults living in the community at large in newly released one-year data from the Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging’s Age Well Study.

Life plan community residents, according to study findings, pursue more intellectual activities such as reading, games, trainings or other educational offerings, and they use social media and meet with friends more often than older adults in the community at large. Life plan community residents also reported greater satisfaction with life, more physical activity, increased personal connections, higher frequency of volunteering, more optimism, greater life purpose, better self-reported health and fewer chronic conditions.

“I was delighted to see so many positive outcomes associated with living in a life plan community — the positives go much deeper than the six main dimensions of wellness included in the study,” Mather LifeWays President and CEO Mary Leary told McKnight’s Senior Living. “I can’t say I was surprised. The data quantifies what we already felt would be true.”

The findings are based on responses from 5,148 independent living residents from 80 life plan communities in 28 states. The first-year survey was administered from January to May 2018. Responses from residents were compared with responses from older adults in the community at large.

The one area in which adults in the general community scored higher than life plan community residents was spiritual wellness, including spirituality and frequency of praying privately.

“Most likely, it is because residents reported fewer religious affiliations than did older adults in the community at large comparison group. Also, the questions were suggestive of a more traditional conception of religion rather than spirituality in a broader sense — for example, ‘I believe in a God who watches over me,’ ‘The events in my life unfold according to a divine or greater plan,’ ” said Cate O’Brien, Ph.D., MPH, assistant vice president and director of the Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging. “It may be that life plan community residents have a less traditional sense of spirituality and so would not be as likely to endorse those items. To investigate this theory, we have added several questions to the Year 2 survey which ask about spirituality more broadly.”

In the meantime, life plan community operators may wish to review their spiritual offerings to ensure that they are meeting residents’ interests and needs, O’Brien said.

The next data from the five-year study will be released in a year and will include interview data as well as additional findings from the survey. “We are excited to share the interview-based findings, as [they] will provide additional insights gleaned from our conversations with residents from three communities,” O’Brien said.

Life plan communities with at least 100 independent living residents were eligible to enroll in the study.

“The communities that participate in the five-year study are receiving custom reports on their residents’ data, so they can see exactly where their strengths and opportunities lie,” Leary said.

The overall study results could be helpful to all life plan communities in their marketing and other efforts, however, according to Mather LifeWays.

“Among the many positive feelings they report, the report demonstrates that residents have a higher degree of satisfaction with their lives, more frequent social interaction, have a greater sense of purpose, and are more active than older adults in the community-at-large,” O’Brien said. “Aside from these favorable comparisons, the report underscores the fact that those who make the choice to live in a life plan community are thriving, and it’s very likely that their environment is an important component of that. As a prospective resident or family member, I think I would find that information was helpful.”

Download the free report on the Mather LifeWays website.