Older Adults Live Longer When They Move into a Senior Living Community

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A recent study concludes that moving into a senior living community promotes longevity. Research conducted by the nonpartisan organization NORC at the University of Chicago found that older adults who move into senior living communities — including independent living communities, assisted-living facilities, and memory care facilities — live longer than comparable adults who live in other places.

The study focused on older adults who moved into a senior living community in 2017 and remained there for at least two years. The study group was matched to a population of randomly selected seniors who were similar in age, gender, and health and who resided outside of senior housing.

The study followed both groups for a two-year period. It concluded that, on average, residents of senior living communities experienced a lower mortality rate than comparable seniors who lived in other settings.

Support Structures

Several factors may contribute to the study’s findings. One key to longevity is the support that senior living communities provide to residents. Some communities offer assisted-living services that assure a resident’s daily contact with a trained caregiver. When a caregiver observes that a resident is unwell, the resident is generally referred to a registered nurse who may recommend a medical checkup by a physician.

Assisted-living facilities typically manage the medication of their residents. Caregivers assure that residents take their prescription medications as scheduled. The study found that 70% of residents in senior living communities are more compliant with medication schedules than their counterparts who live in other places.

Even when non-disabled adults move into an age-restricted retirement community that does not provide assistive services, residents tend to have easy access to healthcare. Many retirement communities provide transportation to medical appointments. Most make it easy for residents to contact an emergency services provider.

Retirement community residents who do not need assisted-living services often benefit from a community’s wellness program. Exercise classes, yoga, dance classes, and other group activities encourage residents to stay active and promote good health. Independent living community residents might also enjoy mental health benefits from community activities that improve their overall well-being.

Some seniors who live outside a senior living community develop a feeling of isolation. When they feel ill, they have no nearby friends or family to encourage them to see a doctor. Retirement communities allow residents to build new relationships. Friends and neighbors who notice symptoms of an illness may help a resident decide to seek medical treatment. Feeling connected to a community enables residents to obtain healthcare services before they need emergency care.

On the whole, the study found that residents of senior living communities obtained more preventative and rehabilitative care than seniors who lived in other environments. The support structures that are part of independent living communities and assisted-living facilities are probably the most significant reason why moving into a senior living community is correlated with a longer lifespan.

Variations Among Retirement Communities

Residents in assisted-living and memory care facilities tend to enter the facility in poorer health than residents of retirement communities. The study found that residents of assisted-living facilities receive more preventative and rehabilitative services than residents of independent living communities. 

The researchers discovered that residents live longer in some communities than in others. Overall, residents of the top 25% of communities who died during the two-year study period lived two months longer than residents of the bottom 25% of communities. The greatest variation occurs in memory care facilities. The study also found a greater variation in longevity in assisted-living facilities than in independent living facilities.

It isn’t clear why longevity varies from one assisted-living or memory care facility to another. The researchers hope that their analysis will lead to further study of the “best practices” that senior living communities should follow to assure the longevity of their residents. 

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