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How Life Plan Communities Boost Resilience, Emotional Wellness, and Life Satisfaction

Smiling older couple researching life plan community.

2021 was the third year of the comprehensive five-year Age Well Study from the Mather Institute. The ultimate goal of this study is to understand more about the impact living at a Life Plan Community has on residents’ overall health and quality of life over time. To compile Year 3 results, researchers interviewed 4,191 residents from 122 Life Plan Communities across the United States. This year’s focus centered around residents’ emotional wellness, specifically happiness and life satisfaction. Survey respondents reported on their own feelings to account for differences in personalities and expectations.

First, What Is a Life Plan Community?

To understand how living at a Life Plan Community affects overall health and wellbeing, let’s first clearly define what a Life Plan Community is. Also known as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), a Life Plan Community is a senior living community that provides active independent living, as well as a continuum of senior health services — likely including some combination of assisted living, rehabilitation, skilled nursing and memory care. This type of community allows residents to age in place and transition to levels of care if/when they need to with relatively little trouble.

Year 3 Results of the Age Well Study

On a scale of 1 to 7, the respondents reported an average level of life satisfaction and happiness of 5.9, and even the responses in the lowest 25% of life satisfaction were above the midpoint on the scale. A number of factors appear to influence reported satisfaction and happiness levels.

Demographics

Women reported slightly happier attitudes than their male counterparts. Younger respondents rated their happiness and satisfaction higher than respondents in the oldest age range, 90 and older. Senior living residents with fewer chronic diseases reported greater happiness and satisfaction compared with those living with several chronic diseases. Seniors with a college degree or higher rated their life satisfaction higher than those without a college degree. Residents with greater household income reported greater satisfaction. Married respondents rated a slightly higher level of overall life satisfaction than single respondents. And residents with fewer depressive symptoms reported greater satisfaction and happiness.

Psychological Resources

On a personal level, certain psychological resources had an effect on seniors’ emotional health. Respondents who showed higher levels of extroversion and agreeableness reported greater happiness and life satisfaction, while those with more neurotic traits reported lower levels of both. More optimism, perceived control over their lives, a greater purpose, and higher resilience all contributed to residents feeling happier and more satisfied. These traits are particularly informative because, unlike age and certain chronic diseases, individuals can make efforts to strengthen their psychological resources, leading to more overall satisfaction and happiness with their lives.

Social and Communal Factors

Social and communal factors — residents’ connection to others, to a community and to a greater power — impacted their sense of happiness and satisfaction. Higher reported loneliness had an adverse relationship, but greater social cohesion and a greater sense of community belonging were associated with higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction. Higher religiosity was related with higher levels of life satisfaction but not necessarily happiness. Higher spirituality correlated with higher levels of happiness but not necessarily life satisfaction.

With myriad social opportunities integrated into life at a Life Plan Community, the chances to enhance feelings of social cohesion and sense of community and diminish feelings of loneliness are more plentiful.

Physical Health

Respondents who reported better overall health also reported both greater happiness and higher life satisfaction. Greater physical activity corresponded with greater happiness but not significantly to life satisfaction. A healthy diet was related to life satisfaction but not significantly to happiness.

Life Plan Communities make the physical health of their residents a top priority, providing an array of fitness classes and chef-prepared meals. Many offer residents access to a dietitian to assist with specialty diet restrictions or personal goals. Communities provide helpful resources so residents can bolster their health and fitness in a way that suits their preferences.

Senior Living Community

When asked, 91% of respondents were either “completely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their senior living community. 92% were either “completely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their residence. And 85% of responding seniors said they were either “completely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their daily life and leisure. All these life domains had a positive correlation with reported happiness and life satisfaction.

In Conclusion

Life Plan Communities provide the social interaction, community connection, health and fitness resources, comfortable residences, and overarching support that correlates strongly with residents’ happiness and life satisfaction. If you’re ready to explore Life Plan Communities near you, answer a few questions in our easy-to-use Find a Community tool.