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UC Irvine's first Leisure World survey shows residents healthier, more active than senior population in general
Ongoing retirement community survey promises valuable data about successful aging
Irvine, Calif., October 12, 2000
In the first-ever survey of the Laguna Woods Leisure World retirement community, UC Irvine researcher Richard McCleary has found its residents are healthier and much more active than their counterparts across the nation.While the median age of Leisure World residents is 77.5 years, fewer than 5 percent say they have any impairment that affects daily living, compared with 14 percent nationally. Even those in their 80s average twice-weekly visits to Leisure World's fitness centers, swimming pools, golf courses or other facilities for physical activity.
They're also extremely well educated (80 percent have some college) and have a high rate of home and car ownership. With a median annual income range of $21,000 to $40,000, however, they are less affluent than might be expected.
The survey results released this month are the first in an ongoing series of annual surveys to be conducted as a joint project of UC Irvine and the Leisure World Historical Society. McCleary, a professor of environmental analysis and design in UCI's School of Social Ecology and a researcher in the Brain Aging Institute, said, "In this project, we have a unique opportunity to learn more about successful aging. With the first survey of 1,616 Leisure World residents, we've established a good foundation of social and demographic data upon which to build valuable information about aging."
The project began with a need for planning in the recently incorporated city of Laguna Woods—the first retirement community in the nation to form its own city government.
"Leisure World is over 35 years old, and we needed to do some long-term planning as a community," said Syd Aronson, co-chair of the Leisure World Historical Society Survey Committee. "It started with concern over our physical plant, but we soon realized that after 35 years, we really didn't know who we were any more. We needed information about our population—their health, how they used Leisure World facilities and other issues.
The first of the annual surveys focuses on such basic information as age (42 percent are 80 years or older), income (median household income is about $30,000), marital status (more than half are married), activity level and quality of life. But future surveys will collect more detailed information on these broad topics to discover the "how" and "why" behind the seniors' responses.
Highlights of the survey include the following:
Profile of Leisure World households
Activities and facilities use
"We found residents using Leisure World's physical facilities twice a week into their 80s and once a week in their 90s," McCleary said. "But we also learned that as physical use goes down with age, nonphysical use goes up. Seniors may use the swimming pool less, but they use the library or card rooms more, so they're staying active, involved and engaged."
Quality of life
"In comparison with U.S. Health and Human Services Department statistics, which indicate 14 percent of elderly people are unable to carry out one or more activities of daily living and 34 percent engage in physical activity less than once a week, these people are much healthier and extremely more active than the aging population in general," McCleary pointed out.
"We were surprised to find we're a healthier community than we thought we were," Aronson said. "I think this study will redefine what an active senior is."
The survey of 1,616 residents was conducted in July and August 2000 by mailed questionnaire. The response rate for the random sample was a "remarkably high" 80 percent, McCleary noted. The survey has a margin of error of 2.4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
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