“Wellness” is a term that gets used a lot in senior living, and depending on the context, it can have many different meanings. But when it comes to continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, also called live plan communities) and other types of senior living options, “wellness” usually refers to any service or amenity that contributes to residents’ quality-of-life. In addition, CCRCs also provide senior wellness services in the form of nursing or medical care, if and when their residents need it.

CCRCs are renowned for their many wellness-related lifestyle features such as:

  • Numerous physical fitness options…everything from group exercise classes to nature trails to personal trainers.
  • Group social events, clubs, and committees
  • Cultural, art, and performance activities
  • Community volunteer programs
  • Lifelong learning educational classes…just to name a few.

While these activities are fun, they also serve a higher purpose: They keep CCRC residents active, happy, and healthy. But this isn’t just passive “entertainment”; rather, senior wellness programming offers opportunities for residents to actively engage–physically and/or mentally–with others, staving off the sedentary, lonely lifestyle that is all-too common among seniors in our county.

>> Related: The Senior Loneliness Epidemic & Solutions to “Cure” It

Worth the investment by CCRCs

While these events and activities do contribute to the overall wellness of CCRC residents, they also have the added advantage of upping a community’s level of customer satisfaction. Since happy customers (i.e., residents) will likely remain in the community (thus maintaining high occupancy levels within the community), stay healthy longer (the less care required, the more profitable a resident becomes), and often will even spread the word about their positive experiences among friends outside of the community (thus referring prospective new residents), more and more CCRCs are realizing the benefits that good programming has for their financial bottom line.

Several studies have come out in recent years that support the value of CCRCs investing in quality-of-life-related programming for their residents. For example, the 2016 National Benchmarks Report, a joint study conducted by the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) and ProMatura Group, shows that, in the senior living industry, there is a clear connection between so-called “wellness lifestyles” and customer satisfaction among residents.  View The National Benchmarks Report, 2016.

The ICAA/ProMatura study looked at the lifestyle/wellness data of 73 CCRCs in the U.S., as well as 26 other senior living communities that offer independent living, or both independent living and assisted living and/or memory care. Using customer satisfaction survey responses from over 3,400 residents of these 99 communities, the researchers examined topics such as the communities’ activities, fitness opportunities, and recreation programming. They also tracked which specific wellness programs survey participants took part in, so they could make direct correlations about which programs offered the senior living community their biggest “bang for the buck” when it came to residents’ overall satisfaction with the community.

>> Related: 4 Ways CCRCs Help Seniors Stay Healthy

What residents are saying about wellness programming

Here are some of the key findings of the ICAA/ProMatura study; they paint a very positive picture of the CCRC and senior living industry:

  • Half of all residents in the communities included in the report engaged in their community’s senior wellness programming, and more than four out of five of these residents remarked that they were “very satisfied/satisfied” with the events and activities that are provided.
  • Residents who participate in wellness programs live in the community up to two years longer than non-participants, keeping occupancy levels high and reducing the cost of marketing empty units.
  • Approximately 90 percent of residents who took part in wellness activities said they were happy with their quality of life.
  • Residents age 75 to 84 rated their health as “good to excellent” more often than their peers in the U.S. population at-large—94 percent in the study’s CCRCs and 79 percent in the other communities in the study, as compared to 76 percent in the U.S. population (according to stats from the 2014 U.S. National Health Interview Survey).
  • For retirement community residents 85 and older, 92 percent in the CCRCs and 79 percent in the other study communities rated their health as “good or excellent.” By comparison, just 68 percent of their peers in the U.S. population rated their health as “good to excellent.”
  • About 80 percent of survey respondents said that participating in their community’s wellness programs made them “much more” or “somewhat more” satisfied with the overall community.
  • Almost half of survey participants said that they “agree” or “strongly agree” that the community’s wellness program is one of the primary reasons they selected that particular community.
  • Staff members who manage senior wellness programming at these communities tend to have four-year or even graduate degrees, and roughly two-thirds of residents in the survey said they were “extremely satisfied” with the quality of the wellness staff.

In short, a large majority of residents within the senior living communities included in this benchmarking report feel that overall, their community–be it a CCRC, independent living, or assisted living/memory care–offers high-quality wellness programming and provides good value for the money they pay to live there.

>> Related: The Number 1 Deciding Factor When Choosing a CCRC

Special thanks to Missy Johnson, director of marketing and sales at Galloway Ridge, a CCRC in Pittsboro, North Carolina, who shared this ICAA/ProMatura study with me. Galloway Ridge is a member of the ICAA and has found the value in offering a variety of wellness programs to their residents; they even have a dedicated director of senior wellness on their staff.

Valuable data for senior living communities & prospective residents

Sales and marketing departments at CCRCs frequently use this type of benchmarking data to show that their residents are happy with the community, their services, and amenities. The fact that residents are given numerous opportunities for active engagement and fulfillment forms a stark contrast to some of the stereotypes often associated with an “old folks’ home.” Additionally, community management can use this type of data to inform decisions about where to spend money, what programs to continue or grow, and which ones aren’t worth the time and money.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway from the information in the ICAA/ProMatura study is that an overwhelming majority of CCRC and senior living community residents are satisfied with their decision to relocate to a retirement community. They are healthier (or at the very least, they perceive themselves to be healthy), and they are more socially and mentally engaged than many of their non-resident peers. And that is a well-documented combination to help seniors live longer, happier lives.

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