Life plan community residents tend to experience greater emotional, social, physical, intellectual and vocational wellness than their counterparts in the greater community, according to preliminary first-year results of a study of more than 5,000 residents of 80 such communities in 29 states.

“One of the strongest points coming through is that life plan communities are places where older adults are able to find tremendous opportunity for aging well across multiple dimensions of aging,” Cate O’Brien, Ph.D., assistant vice president and director of the Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging, told McKnight’s Senior Living on Tuesday.

She was speaking of the Age Well Study by Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging and Northwestern University, longitudinal research that is evaluating the effects of living in life plan communities, also known as a continuing care retirement communities, on residents’ health and well-being. The study will measure residents’ self-reported health and wellness through a survey taken annually for five years.

Results are being compared with a demographically similar sample drawn from the Health and Retirement Study conducted by the University of Michigan. Interviews with some residents are helping to interpret the findings and determine additional questions for the future, O’Brien said.

Among the findings, researchers discovered that life plan community residents tend to have greater wellness in five of six dimensions measured — emotional, social, physical, intellectual and vocational wellness — than community-dwelling older adults, even after controlling for factors such as age, income and education. For instance, 69% of residents reported that moving to a life plan community “somewhat or greatly improved” their social wellness.

“I would say social wellness includes a sense of connectedness, a sense of belonging, a sense of community,” O’Brien said. It was up to residents to interpret the term when answering the question, however, she added.

In the sixth dimension, spirituality, community-dwelling residents scored higher, O’Brien said.

“The two measures that we used for spirituality came from the Health and Retirement Study and may have reflected a more traditional view of religion,” she said. “It may be that residents have a slightly less traditional view of spirituality and religion. It may also be that community-dwelling older adults who are highly involved with their church or synagogue or other place of worship feel a strong sense of community and social support there and maybe are less likely to move into a life plan community because of that.”

Researchers plan to add some measures to the next wave of the survey to help them examine this area more closely, she said.

Life plan community residents also reported significantly more healthy behaviors than did community dwellers, according to Mather LifeWays. In addition to exercise, O’Brien said, “The three other [behaviors] that we saw a difference in were increased social contact, greater participation in intellectual activities and a higher frequency of volunteering.”

Other highlights of the findings:

  • Life plan community residents in the South and West were found to have greater life satisfaction and to be more optimistic than those in the Midwest or in the Northeast, Mather LifeWays President and CEO Mary Leary told McKnight’s Senior Living.
  • Residents who live in life plan communities with entrance fees had lower levels of depression and better overall health of their diets than those who live in rental communities, she said.
  • Residents who live in life plan communities with 300 or more residents were found to have higher life satisfaction, better mood, more positive perceptions of aging, less stress and higher perceived control, Leary said.

Full first-year findings will be published in January and will include additional insights on differences by region, community size and whether a community charges an entrance fee or is a rental community, she said.

“The findings were so positive in the first year that we are planning to open up the survey in year two so that more life plan communities can participate,” Leary said. “And for those who did participate in year one, we’re going to open it up so that additional residents from those communities can participate, if they’d like. We’re really hoping for a nice increase in sample size.”

Life plan communities interested in participating in the study can register at www.theagewellstudy.com. Communities that participate will receive a report summarizing their own resident data as well as a full copy of the final report. Nov. 30 is the registration deadline.

Helping to share the research and promote community participation, Leary said, have been the American Seniors Housing Association; LeadingAge; Ziegler; Novare, a national consortium of single-site and small-system life plan communities; LCS; and the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care.

Related Articles