New Study Shows Life Plan Community Residents ARE Happier and Healthier

by Brad Breeding from My LifeSite

I often talk and write about the many benefits that come with living in a Life Plan Community. Travelling to Life Plan Communities 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, Life Plan Communities 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 Life Plan Community residents are well-served by their decision to move to a Life Plan Community.

First of its kind research on Life Plan Community 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 Life Plan Community residents' self-reported health and wellness metrics on 24 measures, the study is exploring the overall impact of living in a Life Plan Community.

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 Life Plan Community—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 Life Plan Community prospects.

Year 1 findings about Life Plan Community 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 Life Plan Communities across 29 states. Their responses show that overall, Life Plan Community residents are living notable happier, healthier lives than their non-Life Plan Community-dwelling counterparts in numerous ways.

  • Life Plan Community residents tend to have greater emotional, social, physical, intellectual, and vocational wellness than the demographically similar control group from the HRS study.
  • Life Plan Community 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 Life Plan Community residents surveyed said that moving to a Life Plan Community "somewhat or greatly improved" their social wellness, a concept which encompasses a person's sense of connectedness and belonging within their community.
  • Life Plan Community 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.
  • Life Plan Community 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 Life Plan Communities 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 Life Plan Communities:

  • If moving to a Life Plan Community 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 Life Plan Community impacts their health and wellbeing.
  • The various factors that may predict which prospective residents will thrive in a Life Plan Community.

Valuable insights for Life Plan Community prospects and administration

While I have gathered anecdotal information during my travels on the many positive ways that Life Plan Communities impact their residents, those of us within the industry have had few analytics to support our theories on specifically why and how Life Plan Communities 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 Life Plan Community as well as Life Plan Community 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 Life Plan Community and some of the precise ways Life Plan Communities 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 Life Plan Community 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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