By J.C. Williamson
Aging well is everyone’s goal. Likewise, remaining in our own homes “for the duration” is generally held as the gold standard. What if you could still live independently, yet within an environment of connectivity and support?
Life plan communities have been around for decades, and many more are emerging across the country. Simply defined, a life plan community incorporates graduated levels of elder lifestyle options, from independent living, to assisted living options, all the way up to skilled nursing facilities.
A 2019 Northwestern University study compared attitudes of life plan community residents to those of com-parable age in the community at large. The study evaluated six dimensions of aging wellness: emotional, social, physical, spiritual, intellectual and vocational.
The Age Well study also examined several emotional wellness factors: satisfaction with life, resilience, de-pression, mood, hopelessness, perceptions of aging, optimism/pessimism, stress, perceived control and subjective age (how “young” one feels).
In all but one category, residents of life plan communities rated them-selves higher than did those in the community at large. Why? They said they had increased social contact, fewer responsibilities, and more free time.
Social wellness factors included community belonging, social cohesion, loneliness, and various types of social contact (from in person to social media). Again, residents of life plan communities reported high levels of interaction overall. This holds with the expectation that such environments enable a greater variety of social engagement than those available in the general community.
Physical wellness factors assessed self-reported health, chronic conditions, levels of physical activity, and healthfulness of diet. Easier access to fitness facilities and health services, in addition to the availability of dining options, may explain why residents of life plan communities appear to enjoy higher levels of physical wellness than their general community counter-parts, with significantly fewer chronic illnesses.
Researchers also explored three more wellness dimensions: spiritual, intellectual and vocational. Of these, only spiritual wellness ranked lower in life plan communities — perhaps because their residents were predominately not aligned with particular religions. However, intellectual and vocational wellness ranked notably higher, which could be related to greater access to more on-site options and increased leisure time.
The most significant element of life care communities may be their emphasis on active and connected life-styles, especially for those who join these communities while they are still quite capable of living independently.
While the availability of graduated levels of care remains a decisive factor in choosing a life care community option, elders today want more — not just a care home, but a home, a community, a place to live vibrantly, as well as safely.