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The Transition to Living at a Life Plan Community

a senior woman smiling for the camera

Smoothing the Transition

When older adults make the decision to move from a home where families were raised, gardens were tended, and dear friends visited to celebrate life’s milestones, there is natural period of adjustment to the new life experience of living at a Life Plan Community, formerly know as a continuing care retirement community.

Just how well do new residents adjust to their new environment? What impact do Life Plan Communities have on quality of life issues? What are the factors that enhance optimal aging? And, what is the value of the continuum? Are people happier and healthier in Life Plan Communities vs. remaining at home?

The answers to these questions come from two studies funded in part by LCS. The research explored aspects of non-residents’ decision not to move to a Life Plan Community and their overall satisfaction with life. The research also considered the effects of time, including when new residents begin to master their physical and social setting, if and when respondents had found a sense of contentment and purpose in life going forward, and whether they developed positive social relationships.

Older adults have much at stake when moving into a Life Plan Community including changes in interactions with family and friends and the challenges of adjusting to new physical and social environments. Research identifying factors associated with older adults’ decision-making characteristics and subsequent satisfaction with where they live has very important implications. By learning more, we can help prospective residents make good decisions with which they will be satisfied, and ensure that our communities foster rich social opportunities to new and newer residents that speed a newfound sense of control, integration, belonging, and the warmth of being at home.

Two Research Studies

LCS helped fund empirical research about the transition experience older adults have when they prepare to move to a Life Plan Community, actually move in, and then live in the community.

Two related studies were funded via a grant through the Institute for Optimal Aging to professors in the Department of Aging and Mental Health Disparities at the University of South Florida. The USF researchers investigated the factors that influenced decision-making and satisfaction among new residents and non-residents of Life Plan Communities.A graphic depicting the timeline of when USF researchers spoke to seniors who recently moved into a CCRC

The Decision to Move

The first study titled “How Do Older Adults Decide to Move to a CCRC and What Contributes to Satisfaction With the Decision?” included 52 new residents and 49 non-residents who had inquired about but decided not to move to a Life Plan Community.

When the interviews were initiated, residents and non-residents had similar characteristics and both were relatively satisfied with their current living situation and personal well-being.A graphic showing some differences in health and relationships between seniors in CCRCs and those who chose not to moveQuestions regarding financial status, health status, social support, civic participation, attitudes about Life Plan Communities, and sources of information about Life Plan Communities were factors thought to predict the decision to move. The findings showed:

a senior woman holding two weights

The largest differences between residents and non-residents involved the positive perception that Life Plan Communities offer a variety of health services, are a good fit personally and offer a variety of social activities.

Residents of Life Plan Communities see value in the continuum of care. Services that had the greatest effect on the decision to move to a Life Plan Community included on-site skilled nursing center, on-site nurse, housekeeping and help with personal care.

Residents more often received their first source of information about Life Plan Communities from spouses and children; non-residents more often received information from friends, direct mail and newspaper advertising.

Participants with greater self-perceived health and social needs, those with positive attitudes about Life Plan Communities, and those who received information about Life Plan Communities from their spouse, friend or child were more likely move to a Life Plan Community.

A graph showing all of the sources where seniors first heard about CCRCs

Overall, the survey outcomes were more encouraging for residents in Life Plan Communities. These residents had higher satisfaction with their home and well-being than non-residents did at the final interview.

While all participants were more satisfied with their current living situation after 12-months if they reported satisfaction when the survey started, residents in Life Plan Communities were more satisfied with their living situation and had better well-being than non-residents had, on average. Significant factors associated with well-being included younger age, better cognitive functioning at move-in, and perceived control over social relations.

The second study, titled “Social Networking During The First Months After Moving to a Continuing Care Retirement Community” built on the foundation of the first study, with increased focus on the personal and social qualities that are associated with a successful transition from home to a Life Plan Community.

The majority of the interview questions focused on the individual’s social network as it existed since the move to the Life Plan Community and their current emotional well-being.

A graphic showing some statistics about new CCRC residents from a recent study

Improved Well-Being

Answers to questions about emotional well-being indicated that new residents felt their circumstances were about the same as usual or better. The highest report of improved emotional well-being regarded residents’ feeling of “happiness.”

While happiness is comprised of a combination of different things, having a strong sense of personal control in one’s life is a dependable predictor of positive feelings of well-being.

As shown in the table below, the first few months of living at a Life Plan Community boosted feelings of improved control in enjoyment of daily activities, decision-making, and concentration. Conversely, feelings of strain, worry, unhappiness, lack of confidence and poor self-esteem declined.

A table showing how behaviors of seniors who move into CCRCs have changed compared to those who do not live in one

Source: Chiriboga., D., Ph.D.

According to the research, a key factor to consider in adapting to living at a Life Plan Community is how long the resident has lived at the community. To illustrate the role of time, the data was compared by compartmentalizing the length of time in the resident’s new home into shorter (under three months) and longer time intervals (under three months or three months or more). While most residents were well on their way to feeling integrated within their community, both groups of new and newer residents naturally took some time to acclimate in various ways. For instance, about a third of the newest arrivals reported they felt more distant from other people. As time passed, however, nearly all reported the opposite.an elderly man and two women holding shopping bags and walking down the street

Other indications that the perception of well-being improves in residents who had lived in the community for at least three months included fewer reports of lack of companionship, fewer reports of feeling left out or isolated, fewer reports of not meeting new friends or rarely interacting with neighbors, and fewer reports of not feeling like they belonged in their new community.

Some residents continued to adapt up to six months after moving in to a Life Plan Community. This data suggests senior living management can do more to foster a sense of belonging in the early months of residency to speed successful transition and foster greater, ongoing resident satisfaction.

Having health, emotional, and social needs met over the course of the first year is a strong predictor of satisfaction with the decision to move. Cumulatively, both sets of research suggest that the vast majority of new residents adjust well to living at a Life Plan Community, and the findings imply that by six months most will feel like they are part of their community. Therefore, commitment to nurturing activity and involvement for three to six months after moving in may be optimal for some residents.group of seniors spending time together in the living room of a resident's apartment

Market research, conducted by LCS, regarding the move-in process suggests that current residents and staff play a major role in a new resident’s adjustment. In many communities, new resident orientations are held to help the resident become acquainted with his or her new home, combining staff and existing resident experiences to provide valuable information to the new resident. Although information is important in the transition to a new living environment, ongoing support to help a new resident to feel at home may be the best way to ensure a successful adjustment.

One year after moving into a Life Plan Community the residents who participated in the research were happier and healthier than those who had remained at home. These findings help validate the conviction that people who choose to live in senior living communities can experience greater well-being—and greater levels of happiness. As Life Plan Community operators, we should continue to advance better and smoother transitions for new residents into our senior living communities, and support new and newer residents who may need more time to adapt to different patterns of social activity.

Actionable Implications

Involve the prospective resident’s circle of influence.

Seniors with a higher likelihood of moving to a CCRC react to information received by sources they consider credible – most often family and friends they see frequently. Unlike residents at Life Plan Communities, notably fewer non-residents indicated their first source of information about Life Plan Communities came from a spouse or adult child. Staff can increase sales by influencing how new and prospective residents, and their families and friends, learn about Life Plan Communities and by engaging key influencers in meaningful ways that encourage their recommendation.

Highlight the value of health care services.

Address individuals’ current and future health care needs. Residents at Life Plan Communities regarded on-site health care and support of activities of daily living as the primary reasons for their positive attitudes about a Life Plan Community, making them a lot more likely to move.elderly woman holding a set of paintbrushes

Leverage the data.

Non-residents tend to be less satisfied with their lives than residents at Life Plan Communities are. Consider marketing and public outreach programs that educate the greater community about opportunities for seniors with regard to social interaction, friendships and the ability to remain independent. Inform adult children and consider offering programs and services to friends and family living outside of the community.

Schedule a new resident follow-up visit around 3 to 6 months post move-in.

New and newer residents should already be engaging in activities and enjoying the community’s amenities within three months of moving in. A follow-up visit six months later can help connect unmet needs with solutions to ensure all new residents feel at home.


Gum, Amber, Ph.D., How do older adults decide to move to a CCRC and contributes to satisfaction with the decision? April 2010 – April 2013, Final Progress Report, April 8, 2013, University of South Florida College of Behavioral and Community Sciences.

Chiriboga, David, Ph.D., Social Networking During The First Months After Moving To A Continuing Care Retirement Community. Fall and Winter of 2011 and 2012. CCRC Report, January 25, 2013. University of South Florida College of Behavioral and Community Sciences.


The following communities managed by Life Care Services during the study participated in the research:

Casa de las Campanas, San Diego, California

Croasdaile Village, Durham, North Carolina

Cypress Glen, Greenville, North Carolina

Friendship Village Sunset Hills, Sunset Hills, Missouri

Friendship Village Tempe, Tempe, Arizona

The Marshes of Skidaway Island, Savannah, Georgia

Park Springs, Stone Mountain, Georgia

Plantation Village, Wilmington, North Carolina

Vantage House, Columbia, Maryland

Wyndemere, Wheaton, Illinois

To learn more about how your senior living community can benefit from Life Care Services management, call 515-875-4755 or visit us at https://www.senior-living-management.com/. Where Experience Is Everything.


This white paper originally published in 2014.