Top 5 Ways that Campus Retirement Communities Are Great for Your Health
Why living in one can help you mentally, physically and socially
You might think that the biggest health advantage to moving into a senior living community is the long-term care options that are available on the campus. Or that staying alone in your home is a better and safer option for growing older. In fact, the number one factor that impacts better health for older adults is the easy availability of connection to others.
While the COVID-19 pandemic brought "shelter in place" restrictions for many individuals, older adults who lived in a campus-style retirement community were able to continue to connect with their neighbors in very safe and enjoyable ways, thus avoiding social isolation. A recent campaign for Meals on Wheels featured this: "social isolation is as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day." A quote that seems surprising but has been proven to be true by research.
In recent years, more and more research points to the overall health advantages of social interaction. In one study, Bryan James, an epidemiologist at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center in Chicago, researched the impact of greater social activity levels in individuals and its impact on health. James looked at how social activity affected cognitive decline. Over 1,100 people without dementia at baseline were measured on their social activity levels and then tested periodically on their cognitive functioning over a 12-year period. The rate of cognitive decline was 70% less in people with frequent social contact than those with low social activity.
"When you use your brain and body the way it was intended — as it evolved — you age better," says James. "We just aren't meant to be disengaged from one another."
And in the first year of a five-year longitudinal study called the Age Well Study, conducted by Mather Lifeways Institute on Aging, 5,148 residents from 80 continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) across America are being researched. Key findings from the first year of the study included that 69% of residents somewhat or greatly improved their social wellness, residents reported an average number of fewer than two chronic health conditions – better physical health than the community at large, and that CCRC residents maintained higher levels of intellectual wellness.
Living within a campus-style CCRC like those operated by Acts Retirement-Life Communities (Acts), residents can choose to be as private as they like in their individual apartments or houses. Additionally, similar to a university experience, residents have a wide variety of cultural, educational, fitness and spiritual classes and clubs conveniently available for them right on campus. And with bus transportation to off-campus trips, shopping and cultural experiences, it's so easy for residents to be active and engaged in activities that bring happiness.
Summary: #1 health advantage of living in a CCRC is ongoing and easy access to physical activity and social connection
While it seems like common sense that physical fitness is a critical part of good health, research actually indicates this is especially true for older adults.
According to a research article cited in the Age Well Study ("Sedentary behavior and health outcomes: an overview of systematic reviews," by Leandro Fornia Machade De Renzende et al,) there is strong evidence that older adults who remain sedentary for too long have significant increased risk of mortality and health conditions like fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
The Age Well Study found that residents of CCRCs engage in "vigorous, moderate and mild levels of physical activity more frequently compared to older adults in the community at large" and also that "the number of chronic health conditions is significantly lower for residents of CCRCs compared to older adults in the community at large."
This is due to several factors: 1) Most campus-style retirement communities are spread out over a larger geography, creating natural motivation for residents to walk around more often and for greater distances. 2) CCRCs offer fitness centers and aquatic venues, a variety of fitness classes, individual fitness training and 3) CCRCs provide consultation for healthy diets along with access to a variety of restaurants with healthy dining options.
Summary: #2 health advantage of living in a CCRC is stimulating your brain every day
Intellectual wellness involves expanding knowledge through activities like reading, writing, learning new things and even visiting museums and cultural events – anything that requires thinking and reviewing. Studies in this area have shown decreased cognitive decline among older adults who participate in individual intellectual activities such as online language classes or playing Scrabble with campus friends and even among those who visit museums and enjoy concerts and theater.
Older adults who live on campuses have access to not only a host of on-campus activities like current event discussion groups, group games, concerts, plays and brain health programs (taking COVID-19 safety precautions), they are also able to enjoy frequent outings for cultural experiences in nearby cities and towns. This convenient availability creates many more opportunities to combine social connection with intellectual wellness that older adults simply don't have staying in their homes alone.
Summary: #3 health advantage of living in a CCRC is enhancing your overall well-being
It's a well-known fact that worrying about health concerns causes stress and impacts total happiness. Residents of CCRCs that offer a long-term (or "life care") plan, however, have a truly comprehensive option for one's well-being because a whole host of comprehensive well-being services are offered right on campus.
Preventive wellness plans for individual residents are coordinated by a robust, person-centered approach that includes assessment and consultation with ongoing access to on-campus nurse practitioner primary care and urgent care services, rehabilitation services, dietician/nutritional consultation, home health concierge services and assisted living and skilled care services for long or short-term health care needs.
The availability of this range of well-being services, along with an overarching philosophy of staying strong and thriving successfully is what makes on-campus living a true well-being advantage for residents.
Summary: #4 health advantage of living in a CCRC is a focus on body, mind, and spirit
Moving into a CCRC gives residents and their families true peace of mind in several key ways.
First, the move to a community that provides health advantages for life allows residents to release others from the responsibility of making some decisions.
Second, because indoor and outdoor home maintenance is typically included in the monthly fee, residents can enjoy time with family without taking time to have them work on home maintenance or other household chores.
Additional peace of mind comes from availability of numerous spiritual programs. Acts' retirement communities for example, offer spiritual programs led by an on-campus Chaplain, who then assists each individual resident to ensure that his or her spiritual needs are met. For many people, maintaining faith traditions and practices is a large part of their life enrichment and the contentment that comes from the on-campus access to this spiritual fulfillment can be a tremendous advantage to one's overall well-being and good health.
Summary: #5 health advantage of living in a CCRC is increased wellness and true peace of mind
All of these health advantages make for a truly beneficial choice for older adults who seek a comfortable and expertly designed individual residence on a campus that promotes overall wellness, better health, and happiness.
Learn more about staying healthy in retirement:
- Looking for tips on keeping your body and mind healthy? Start here.
- Five ways to beat retirement depression
- The importance of socializing for seniors
Acts Retirement-Life Communities is the largest not-for-profit owner, operator and developer of continuing care retirement communities in the United States. Headquartered in suburban Philadelphia, Acts has a family of 23 retirement communities that serve approximately 8,500 residents and employ 6,200 in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. For more information about Acts visit actsretirement.org.