Research backs retirement communities as securing NHS savings

Independent study shows no downward trends emerging where they might be expected.


Research finds older people are “less anxious, more active and less likely to fall” in retirement communities

A new report shows older people benefit from improved physical and mental health in retirement communities, resulting in cost savings to the NHS.

Findings from the independent study into healthy ageing carried out by Aston and Lancaster Universities showed that residents living within a charity’s retirement communities:

  • Are more physically active (75% increase in exercise)
  • Benefit from a reduced risk of falls (18%)
  • Are less anxious (23%)
  • Have an increased walking speed
  • Were “never or hardly ever” lonely (86.5%)
  • Have improved autobiographical (24%) and memory (17%) recall
  • Can delay or reverse the onset of frailty

The study was commissioned by the ExtraCare Charitable Trust, a registered charity that creates better lives for older people and operates 19 midlands and southern-based retirement villages and housing schemes.

It follows the charity’s 2012-2015 research with Aston University, which revealed a 14.8% reductions in depressive symptoms among residents after three years and annual NHS savings of 38% per person.

The latest study by Lancaster University and led by Professor Carol Holland includes additional measures for loneliness, resilience and quality of life, and shows that the charity’s unique wellbeing and lifestyle model delivers significant health improvements, including residents reducing their average hospital stays by three days per year.

Shirley Hall, head of innovation and wellbeing at The ExtraCare Charitable Trust, said: “We’re excited by the results of our study. We know older people who exercise tend to be happier and are likely to live longer healthier lives, so it’s great to see that residents within our communities are more physically active.

“However, the results do show a small number of residents are feeling lonely, so we need to help identify and support those who are.

“We know from the study that working on autobiographical memory is one area that our residents can work on to help improve ‘social connectedness’ and loneliness further, and supporting residents with mobility issues to build resilient social networks will be critical in reducing their level of loneliness over time – all things that the charity is committed to doing.”

Chair of the Board of Trustees, Paul Jennings, focussed on those “critical factors” where a downward trend would be expected as a result of age – for example, changes in cognitive function.

He said: “No such trends are emerging. This is having a knock on benefit for the NHS, too, with ExtraCare residents visiting their GP less often, and staying in hospital for shorter periods.

“This takes pressure off the health system (and) is in contrast to the usual expected increase in NHS costs as people age.”

Since the first study was published, the charity has used the results to assess the efficacy of its award-winning wellbeing service, which supports all residents to be proactive in managing their own health and make informed decisions about their health and lifestyle, via regular assessments.

This latest research has helped inform the development of a resilience tool to measure how resilient residents are in terms of physical and cognitive health.

The tool will launch this spring. It will be used to reassess residents who have already been identified as frail to determine if personal goals and targets are helping them to become more resilient.

There are plans to roll the tool out to other retirement housing providers later in the year.

Nineteen villages and schemes were included within the research assessments, with more than 160 residents involved.

For the second report, data from the participants was collected at 24, 36, 48 and 60 months.


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