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Mental Health & Aging: Can Community Living Help With the #1 Mental Illness Older Adults Face?

Senior man looking out of window at home

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health and more and more research is uncovering the connections between the two. Studies are also revealing the impact where you live can have on your mental health.

Social Isolation and Depression

Loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact. Social isolation is a lack of social connections. According to recent studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the health risks of loneliness and social isolation include the following:

  • Social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.
  • Social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia.
  • Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) were associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
  • Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide.
  • Loneliness among heart failure patients was associated with nearly 4 times increased risk of death, 68% increased risk of hospitalization, and 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.

A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) points out that more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated. The elderly are at an even greater risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness and hearing loss.

Depression is the most prevalent mental health problem among older adults and is a condition where one may experience persistent sadness, withdrawal from previously enjoyed activities, difficulty sleeping, physical discomforts and feeling “slowed down.”

How Senior Living Can Combat Loneliness and Depression

A national five-year longitudinal study designed by the Mather Institute in collaboration with Northwestern University evaluated the impact of living in a Life Plan Community on residents’ cognitive, physical and psychosocial health and well-being. Called the Age Well Study, here is some of what they found when comparing the wellness outcomes of older adults living in Life Plan Communities vs. the community-at-large.

Mood: Overall, Life Plan Community participants’ moods were generally positive over the last 30 days, and they tended to experience a more positive mood compared to the community-at-large group.

Optimism/pessimism: Overall, Life Plan Community participants have high levels of optimism and low levels of pessimism compared to the community-at-large comparison group, which suggests they have a positive outlook about the future.

Social wellness: Social wellness emphasizes creating and maintaining healthy relationships by talking, sharing interests and actively participating in social events. 69% of residents reported that moving to a Life Plan Community “somewhat” or “greatly improved” their social wellness.

Social cohesion: Residents with a greater sense of social cohesion in their communities were happier and more satisfied with life.

Community belonging: Residents with a greater sense of community belonging were happier and more satisfied with life.

Better overall health: During the five years of the study, Life Plan Community residents continued to report better physical, emotional, intellectual, social and vocational wellness than their community-at-large counterparts.

More connections: From years one to five, community residents reported their social contacts had significantly increased.

Enjoy a Feeling of True Community

It’s easier to make friends when people with similar interests and backgrounds live right outside your door. As a Life Plan Community, you’ll find friendly neighbors enjoying our wellness-focused lifestyle and wide range of engaging activities, including over 45 interest groups and clubs at Freedom Square of Seminole. To learn more, use our Community Assistant chat feature or contact us here.