It’s human nature to stick with what’s known over the unknown. We’re naturally resistant to change—even when the change in question is something we really wanted, like a new job or moving to a new city. But one of the downsides to this tendency is that we’re also likely to choose to keep ourselves in stressful situations, purely because they’re familiar. This is especially true for older adults, who can find themselves in increasingly stressful living situations that can actually accelerate the aging process.
Stress evolves as we grow older
When we’re younger, we find ourselves dealing with the stress of a demanding, high-pressure job or coordinating childcare. Our resistance to change might mean that we are dealing with that stress long-term, because the thought of applying for a new job, interviewing, and joining a new team can feel more overwhelming and anxiety-inducing than our current high-stress job. Our brains view the change as too much of a risk, so we’re likely to stay in a job that we dislike for much longer than we intend to.
As we age, those stressors evolve. Perhaps our mobility becomes limited, and the thought of navigating around our home’s stairs and tight corners makes us feel anxious. Maybe a loved one has become ill and is dependent on our care, so a once peaceful, happy home has become a stressful environment. Or maybe our social network changes—our children and/or friends who have retired have moved to new cities—and we find that our opportunities for social connection have shrunk. All of these factors place additional chronic stress on older adults.
Being part of a senior living community can directly address these stressors, but the idea of making such a major change may inspire feelings of anxiety. However, when someone is able to overcome that fear and take that leap of faith, they soon realize the benefits and possibilities—and studies have proven that adults who do find themselves happier, less stressed, more resilient, and less vulnerable.
Finding greater resilience and a better quality of life
Researchers at the University of California – San Diego have created a groundbreaking Raise Your Resilience program designed to alleviate common stressors and help older adults live longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives. Knowing that people with high levels of resilience live longer and have better mental and physical health, researchers conducted a resilience study with activities proven to have a positive impact, like gratitude journaling, mindfulness and positive affirmations.
“We’ve been thrilled beyond our wildest dreams by the outcome,” explained Danielle Glorioso, Executive Director of the Stein Institute at UCSD. “We found that resilience levels increase—and continue to increase over time—and that perceived stress levels decrease.”
UCSD formalized the Raise Your Resilience program, which has since been licensed for use at senior living communities such as Belmont Village, who was also a study participant, and has resulted in happier residents.
Another newly released study by NORC at the University of Chicago, funded through a grant from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), uncovered that older adults who have embraced the decision to move to a senior living community are much less vulnerable than older adults who have chosen to remain at home. The study reviewed Medicare claims and used a frailty index developed by researchers at Harvard University to reveal that senior living residents experience a 10% decline in relative frailty levels one year after moving in. Researchers noted that the non-medical care and services that senior living provides—like socialization, transportation, exercise, balanced nutrition, medication management and others—have a significant positive impact on a resident’s health.
Katherine and Polly, daughters of a Belmont Village resident, saw the difference that this combination of medical and non-medical care made in terms of vulnerability. Their mother had been a member of an independent living community for several years when she began to experience a lot of falls due to spinal issues. They knew they needed to find a community that was able to offer her more medical assistance, but they were pleasantly surprised by the social benefits that their mother reported.
“When she came to Belmont Village, one of the things she really liked were the relationships,” said Katherine. “There were so many things to do and people to interact with. We knew she always had someone who could take care of all of her needs—medical and social.”
“Showing that vulnerability levels off and then declines after entering senior living is an important finding,” said Raymond Braun, NIC president & CEO, in a recent release about the NORC study. “For residents, it suggests that this kind of housing can help restore a measure of vitality and independence.”
Unimagined enrichment is possible
For another firsthand take on the value that senior living can bring, look no further than Becky, an 83-year-old woman who moved with her husband of 60 years to Belmont Village Senior Living. She spent many busy years working and raising her family. When her husband’s health declined, Becky found herself solely responsible for his care—including round-the-clock monitoring of his Type 1 diabetes. Stressed at home, she made the decision for the two of them to move to Belmont Village, where he could receive the specialized care he needed, and she could find more support. She’s since become the creative director of the community’s fashion show and a leader and active participant in many of the community’s activities and programs.
“I’m freer now than I think I have ever been,” said Becky. “I’ve been able to find out things about myself that I never knew because my whole life had been devoted to earning a living, having four children, and being a caregiver for my husband. Now I have no responsibilities except to engage in the things I’m interested in.”
According to Danielle, it’s common to see positive reactions like these when someone transitions from a more solitary way of living to settle in a community with resilience programs in place. “We’ve seen firsthand that it works and helps people to open up so they feel better, more grounded, and more rooted,” said Danielle.
Are you ready to explore making a change?
Our guide to Choosing Senior Living allows you to learn about the many types of senior living options available, the signals that it’s time to consider this as an option for you or your family, and what to look for and expect in a senior living community.
If you’re ready to speak to a family advisor, click here.