I often talk and write about the many benefits that come with living in a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or “life plan” community). Travelling to CCRCs across the U.S., I am fortunate to witness firsthand the ways so many of these communities enhance the lives of their residents, and also provide compassionate care if and when a resident has a health issue.
From occasions to socialize with others, life-long learning opportunities, exercise programs, healthy meals, and much more, CCRCs offer seniors numerous wellness advantages. But a recent study conducted by the Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging, in conjunction with Northwestern University, puts analytics with what I have observed for myself and quantifies the ways in which CCRC residents are well-served by their decision to move to a CCRC.
First of its kind research on CCRC residents
Mather LifeWays is a Chicago-based non-denominational not-for-profit organization that focuses on improving the lives of older adults. They offer no-membership-required “gathering place” cafes around the city and numerous neighborhood-based programs, and they also operate one Chicago-area independent living rental community and two life plan communities.
In addition, the organization founded a nationally recognized Institute on Aging, which conducts research for senior living and community-residing older adults through national initiatives, surveys, and studies. To do this research, they partner with several healthcare organizations, universities, and community groups across the country.
Last year, in partnership with Northwestern University, the institute initiated their groundbreaking five-year Age Well Study. Using CCRC residents’ self-reported health and wellness metrics on 24 measures, the study is exploring the overall impact of living in a CCRC.
Researchers are analyzing residents’ cognitive, physical, and psychosocial health, and overall well-being, as determined by their responses to a yearly survey. Their results are then being compared to a demographically similar control group of “community-dwelling” seniors (those not living in a CCRC—they could be home-based or live in another type of community), derived from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), which is an ongoing project being conducted by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.
The Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging recently released their findings from the first year of the Age Well Study, information that will be insightful to the senior living industry as well as CCRC prospects.
Year 1 findings about CCRC residents’ wellness
The first year’s results look at responses to the 2018 survey, which was administered to more than 5,000 residents in 80 CCRCs across 29 states. Their responses show that overall, CCRC residents are living notable happier, healthier lives than their non-CCRC-dwelling counterparts in numerous ways.
- CCRC residents tend to have greater emotional, social, physical, intellectual, and vocational wellness than the demographically similar control group from the HRS study.
- CCRC residents report significantly more healthy behaviors than the other “community-dwelling” seniors. This extends beyond just exercise to diet and other healthy lifestyle choices.
- Over two-thirds of the CCRC residents surveyed said that moving to a CCRC “somewhat or greatly improved” their social wellness, a concept which encompasses a person’s sense of connectedness and belonging within their community.
- CCRC residents who live in communities in the South and West reported greater life satisfaction and overall were more optimistic than those in the Midwest or Northeast regions.
- CCRC residents who live in communities with entrance fees had lower levels of depression, better diets, and better overall health than seniors who live in rental communities.
- Residents who live in CCRCs with 300 or more residents reported higher life satisfaction, better mood, more positive perceptions of aging, less stress, and higher perceived control over their lives, as compared to the control group.
Looking to the future
For the remainder of the landmark five-year Age Well Study, researchers from the Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging and Northwestern University will continue to explore three primary areas of senior wellness within CCRCs:
- If moving to a CCRC makes a difference in residents’ overall health and wellness and which features of the community have the biggest impact on seniors’ wellbeing.
- Residents’ individual beliefs about how living in a CCRC impacts their health and wellbeing.
- The various factors that may predict which prospective residents will thrive in a CCRC.
Valuable insights for CCRC prospects and administration
While I have gathered anecdotal information during my travels on the many positive ways that CCRCs impact their residents, those of us within the industry have had few analytics to support our theories on specifically why and how CCRCs help their residents lead happier, healthier lives.
The Mather LifeWays Age Well Study is providing useful information for both those considering a move to a CCRC as well as CCRC administration and sales teams. This first-of-its-kind study shows with concrete data the very specific health and wellness advantages gained by those who opt to live in a CCRC and some of the precise ways CCRCs are improving the lives of their residents.
This knowledge can help guide communities’ decisions about where to direct their investment in amenities and programming in order for residents to get the most benefit out of it. It also offers insights for CCRC prospects who are considering different communities to understand which amenities could be most valuable to their long-term health and wellbeing.
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