Retirement offers seniors the ability to explore their lives with more freedom than they had during their working days, but this opportunity may be dampened by limited financial resources, mounting bills, and health issues.
Another challenge facing retirees is a lack of community. They no longer have the built-in companionship of co-workers and other acquaintances related to their jobs. Family members and still-working friends may be busy with their own lives and not have much time to spend with their them. Their children and grandchildren may have moved too far to visit regularly. And, sadly, some of their friends may have died. This leaves the senior feeling lonely and isolated.
Opportunities for volunteering, furthering education, and engaging in new activities, such as group hikes or book clubs, are ways to meet new people and establish new friendships. But it shouldn’t be surprising that more seniors are making the big move to continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) to alleviate these concerns and, in turn, experience a more fulfilling and longer life. There’s something to be said for being a part of a community where others understand you.
The health benefits of socialization
Research has shed light on the health benefits of socializing. Yvonne Michael, an epidemiologist at Drexel University School of Public Health, looked at the impact of community social capital on health outcomes. Community social capital was determined by asking thousands of individuals in different neighborhoods questions, such as whether they felt like they can trust their neighbors and know that they are willing to help with things like routine maintenance. Michael found that study participants living in communities with high social capital were 10-22% more likely to get screened for health issues than those living in areas of lower social capital. Additionally, she found that those residing in areas with higher social capital had higher rates of mobility than those areas of lower social capital.
Many retirement communities are specifically designed to provide this type of socialization by providing educational programs, social activities, and exercise facilities that may not have been as easily accessible at home. Trying something new opens doors to friendships and increases the quality of life while boosting mental, physical, and emotional well-being and diminishing feelings of isolation. According to Anne Peiffer, V.P. for Public Relations & Development at Cornwall Manor, a continuing care retirement community close to where I live, there is a reported link to longer life spans as well:
“There is research that suggests that residents of a senior living community do experience longer lives—mainly because of access to healthcare [see below] and the opportunity for socialization and fulfillment.“
“A family member told us, ‘My in-laws have lived there [at Cornwall Manor] for 10 years. They are surrounded by friends and activities that keep them young and vibrant, and I firmly believe that Cornwall is a big reason.’” Peiffer adds, “We have residents over the age of 100 who are still living independently in apartments and many over the age of 90 participate and volunteer and lead lives of purpose.”
Centenarians who are active, eat well, and are socially engaged live longer
Laughter, engagement, and face-to-face contact are all important when it comes to longevity and leading a fulfilling life as a senior. For 300 centenarians participating in a study conducted by the University of San Diego, the study found that their secrets to longevity included leading interesting, rich lives, eating a Mediterranean diet, and walking in the mountains. One centenarian suggests that the secret is cooking with rosemary. Another suggests that the secret elixir of life is drinking red wine and working hard throughout life.
An active lifestyle—filled with hard work, nutritious food, and socialization—seems to be the key that contributes to longevity. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to these resources. This is where wellness coordination at retirement communities steps in to fill the gap. Michael Deveney of Cornwall Manor puts it this way:
“In my role as Wellness Coordinator, I have seen residents try new things, form new friendships, improve their physical and emotional well-being, and experience an improved quality of life,”
He believes this is due to social and physical activities offered by retirement communities, such as “senior prom” or swimming. Many seniors continue to volunteer outside their CCRC, working hard to build community and share their wisdom.
On-site primary care teams
Many CCRCs offer on-site medical care via primary care physicians and nurse practitioners making it easy for residents to access the care that they need to remain healthy and active. A recent study compared the outcomes in a model that utilized dedicated on-site primary care teams vs. primary care teams that also provide care to community-based patients. They showed that seniors living in CCRCs with a dedicated team had reduced ER visits and hospitalizations as well as in-hospital deaths compared to communities without dedicated teams. Further, they found that only 5% of senior residents with this type of integrated care died in a hospital compared to 15% at CCRCs without this service and 27% nationally. Each CCRC surveyed had lower hospital death rates than its town.
The bottom line
Choosing to retire in a CCRC, particularly if it has lots of activities and on-site healthcare, may not only increase longevity, but also make life even more fulfilling, as one is encouraged to try new things and continue to socialize with peers throughout retirement.