Research Review: The Age Well Study
Mather LifeWays recently published a report presenting extensive research exploring health in wellness in Life Plan Senior Living Communities. The Age Well Study: Comparing Wellness Outcomes in Life Plan Communities vs. the Community-at-Large study provides strong evidence for the benefits of Life Plan Communities and also highlights areas where wellness can be improved. The Age Well Study quantifies the benefits of Life Plan Communities by providing data points that can support the senior living industry now and into the future. Mather LifeWays collaborated with 125+ senior living communities across more than 30 states during their research period.
Why the Age Well Study is Important to Senior Living Marketers
Senior living marketers will find the Age Well Study important as it provides more information that can be presented to those hesitant to live in a Life Plan community or to those whose loved ones are feeling guilty about moving a loved one into this type of residential care. The Age Well Study will be a resource for senior living marketers to communicate the benefits of their care with extensive research to back up the work being done within their own communities.
The Age Well Study assessed the impact of residing in a Life Plan community on a residents’ health and wellness over time. The report presents the findings from the first year of the five year study, based on 5.148 resident responses from 80 Life Plan communities across the country. Responses were compared with those from older adults in the community at large. The study follows the Six Dimensions of Wellness Model as a framework for examining wellness.
Emotional wellness measures a residents’ capacity to manage and express feelings, recognize feelings in themselves and others, control stress, problem solve, and manage success and failure. Many older adults experience high levels of stress, which can be predictive of greater cognitive decline and lower levels of physical health. Being resilient to difficult events relates to a better quality of life, better mental and physical health, and increased longevity. The study suggests that regulation of one’s emotions correlates with maintaining wellness.
The Age Well Study found that residents living in Life Plan communities tend to have greater life satisfaction than older adults from the community at large. They also have moderately high resilience, meaning they tend to “bounce back” or recover from stressful events. Life Plan communities provide residents with service-rich environments that allow them to spend less time on home maintenance and more time pursuing personal interests and social activities.
The Age Well Study found that 69 percent of residents reported that moving to a Life Plan community “somewhat” or “greatly improved” their social wellness. Social wellness emphasizes creating and maintaining healthy relationships by talking, sharing interests, and participating in social events and activities. Social connections and support play an important role in an individual’s physical and mental health. Higher levels of social support and lower levels of loneliness relate directly to improved wellbeing.
Residents living in a Life Plan community have relatively low levels of loneliness compared to older adults within the community at large. Residents feel a strong sense of belonging and a closeness with friends and staff members in their communities. Living in a Life Plan community provides older adults with more frequent social contact including many formal and informal opportunities for social interaction.
Engagement in physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, and appropriate utilization of health care, as well as healthy behaviors, contribute to a person’s physical wellness. Growing research suggests that remaining sedentary too long throughout the day increases the risk of mortality among older adults. Residents living at Life Plan communities engage in vigorous, moderate, and mild levels of physical activity more frequently compared to the older adult population at large. Residents living in Life Plan communities also have better self-reported health and on average have fewer chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure.
One factor contributing to the better physical wellness of residents living in Life Plan communities is the availability of fitness centers and wellness services. Most communities in the study reported having a fitness center, aerobics studio, group exercise classes, and a swimming pool. Residents also have access to health-related sessions and screenings within their communities.
Spiritual wellness extends beyond religion to encompass meaning and purpose, meditation, prayer, contemplation of life and death, as well as the appreciation of nature, beauty, and life. The study reports that older adults who engage in mindfulness meditation for 10 minutes per day showed moderate improvements in cognitive performance after only eight weeks. Spiritual wellness contributes greatly to a person’s wellbeing.
Life Plan community participants as a whole have moderate levels of spirituality, though findings suggest they have lower levels of spiritual wellness than older adults within the community at large. According to the Age Well Study, a greater number of participants categorized themselves as have no preference for spiritual affiliation. The study reports a wide range of average spirituality scores across Life Plan communities.
The Age Well Study measures intellectual wellness by expanding knowledge and skill through a variety of resources as well as through stimulating and creative activities. Intellectual wellness contributes to maintaining cognitive function and many programs within this realm relate to improving cognitive health outcomes. Learning a new skill, such as a new language, may have a protective effect against dementia. Engaging one’s mind and seeking out new experiences are important factors in maintaining and improving intellectual wellness.
Overall, the Age Well Study reports that residents living in Life Plan communities engage in intellectual activities more often than older adults in the community at large. Residents in Life Plan communities typically have more access to educational programs and opportunities offered at the community. Adults living in Life Plan communities also have more time to spend pursuing intellectual interests.
Vocational wellness refers to finding and pursuing one’s calling in life, including retirement. For example, a lifetime passion for work that doesn’t interfere with your personal life leads to better life satisfaction in retirement. Volunteer work offers opportunities for older adults to have social contact and can result in a positive impact on their health. Additionally, a strong sense of purpose in life helps older adults experience more positive and fewer negative emotions.
According to the Age Well Study, Life Plan community residents have a greater sense of purpose compared to older adults in the community at large. Both groups report satisfaction in retirement, with little difference.
The Benefits of Life Plan Communities
The Age Well Study quantifies the benefits of Life Plan Communities. Respondents reported that their social, intellectual, physical, and emotional wellness have improved since moving to a Life Plan community. The wide array of resources and programs available to residents in Life Plan communities speaks to positive outcomes that reflect residents’ own perceptions of their own wellness while living in a Life Plan community. Senior living marketers can use the information published in the Age Well Study in communicating with potential residents and their families as well as for finding areas for wellness improvement within their communities.
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