“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” – Helen Keller
Friendship, and feeling connected to humanity, are important through all walks of life. New research supports this truism and provides insights into how it applies to camaraderie among residents in independent senior living communities. In a new article published in Senior Housing and Care Journal, researchers delineated findings that quality of life and residents’ sense of feeling “at home” in the community are associated with individuals’ self-assessed ability to befriend other residents and form close relationships with those residents. In fact, the closer a resident felt to their fellow residents, the more likely they were to report feeling positive about their community.
The authors utilized a survey of more than 6,000 independent living residents to examine the importance of social relationships in the lives of this population, the impact of relationships on individuals’ physical and psychological well-being, and residents’ overall satisfaction with their community of residence. To analyze these factors, the researchers explored an ASHA data set that was collected in 2014 and surveyed residents’ experiences and perceptions with respect to what elements within their community contributed to their feeling—or lack of feeling—of being “at home” there.
To accomplish this, individuals in independent living communities were sampled across 11 major cities in the United States, for a final sample of 126 different communities and 6,858 completed surveys, with an average response rate of 54 percent. Using this data for their analyses, the authors found support for the general notion that social relationships are key to feeling at home in an independent living facility in later life. Explicitly, participants who stated that they felt at home in their community were more likely to report having excellent or good health (53 percent) than those who reported feeling “not home” (31 percent). Those who reported feeling “not home” reported their health as either fair or poor (30 percent) more often than those who felt at home (15 percent).
Additionally, residents who reported a strong sense of camaraderie with others tended to report having more friends in their community. Specifically, participants who strongly agreed that they had a good level of camaraderie in their community, on average, reported having 12 close friends compared to only three close friends for those who either disagreed for strongly disagreed with statements about having a good level of camaraderie with fellow residents.
The results of this study emphasize the importance of social connectedness and friendship for the purpose of maintaining residents’ quality of life and experience of feeling at home within an independent living community. Also worthy of mention, the authors noted that the number of a community’s activities and physical spaces available for activities was not found to be related to residents’ self-reported sense of feeling at home. That’s not to say that those amenities are not important to residents, but that they did not appear to be directly related to one’s feeling of belonging or ability to feel socially connected at a meaningful level with fellow residents. Thus, this study sheds light on the importance of informal social opportunities within independent living communities.
In closing, the authors recommend that independent living communities focus energy on ensuring that the community, including the structure and functions therein, promote and engender an environment that encourages informal social opportunities for the benefit of the residents and community alike. One idea put forth was the to provide staff with training geared specifically at helping residents form and foster friendships, as staff play an important role in catalyzing interactions within a community—especially for newer residents.
Paris K.V, Smith ER, Bernstecker R, et al. Relationships matter: The importance of friendships among residents of independent living communities. Senior Housing & Care Journal. (2015).