August 20, 2019

A national research project called the “Age Well Study” is underway, and a new report has revealed some promising early findings about the benefits of living at “life plan” communities, otherwise known as continuing-care retirement communities (CCRCs). The five-year longitudinal study is the first of its kind to evaluate the effect of living in a CCRC on older adults’ cognitive, physical, and psychosocial health and well-being. Conducted by Northwestern University and the Mather LifeWays Institute, the study involves surveying more than 5,000 residents from 80 CCRCs nationwide and comparing their responses to older adults from the community-at-large.

After just one year of research, the Age Well Study has revealed that when compared to older adults living in the community-at-large, residents of CCRCs tend to experience greater emotional, social, physical, intellectual, and vocational wellness.

One of the most significant takeaways from the study is that nearly 70 percent of older adults surveyed said moving to a CCRC has “somewhat” or “greatly” improved their social well-being. Additionally, residents of CCRCs reported low levels of loneliness and a strong sense of community belonging.

As we know, social well-being is important, especially for older adults who face an increased risk of experiencing loneliness and isolation. Chronic loneliness and social isolation have been known to contribute to a host of health issues among older adults, including depression, poor sleep quality, poor nutrition, cognitive decline, and a greater risk for mortality.

On the other hand, having an active social life encourages healthy behaviors such as good nutrition and exercise. Social interaction is also good for our brains: there are many cognitive skills at work when we’re engaged in conversation, including language skills, listening skills, and the ability to recall information.

The researchers conducting the Age Well Study have not yet determined the exact reason for the differences in social well-being among residents of CCRCs and older adults in the community-at-large. They hypothesize that one reason for the difference is because CCRCs offer residents access to a wealth of social opportunities, including formal and informal social interactions in the form of concerts, games, community celebrations, and simple, everyday encounters with peers who share their interests.

While the Age Well Study is still in its beginning stages, the early results are bringing awareness to the value of continuing-care retirement communities for older adults’ health, wellness, and overall quality of life. As additional data is gathered annually over the next four years, it will be compared to past findings to examine changes in the residents’ wellness over time. Want to find out more? The complete report from the first year of the study is available at TheAgeWellStudy.com.