The impacts on social interactions and relationships
Social interactions and participation in activities offered in a CCRC can have a positive effect on cognition and promote feelings of well-being. However, for many older adults, the move into a CCRC gives them a perception of compression of their social life because of illness or distance or a combination of the two. Winstead et al. (2013, p. 541) defined social compression as social barriers that "represent the negative qualitative changes in social interactions and social ties." Older adults often move out of their homes and communities and sometimes to another part of the country that removes them from family, friends, and their community life. While it is possible to stay connected, it is not always easy, especially when experiencing health or cognitive problems.
This can result in feelings of being isolated and removed from the people that comprised their social network. Staying in touch is also made difficult because friendships are usually with those in a similar age group. This means that many of their friends have the same limitations that accompany the aging process, such as declining health and cognitive abilities. In addition, continuing to drive might no longer be an option, further limiting their ability to stay in touch. When that is the case, residents become dependent on friends, family members, or the transportation options available from their CCRC.
Moving into an assisted living community may affect not only the quantity of social relationships but also their quality. One study on assisted living communities and social relationships found that the social relationships healthier residents formed in their ALC with other residents and staff had a more positive effect on life satisfaction than maintaining previous relationships outside the ALC. Residents who are less healthy, mentally and physically, are more likely to experience reduced psychological well-being because they perceive a loss of independence and have less ability to participate socially. This is especially true when residents do not perceive that their community is a good fit for them. They are then less likely to participate in activities offered by the
new community or engage with others in social settings, thereby reducing opportunities for experiences that could positively affect their physical and mental health.
New relationships that residents invest in when they move into a CCRC may have a better impact on well-being than previous social relationships. However, life in a CCRC may limit the number of new social relationships; choices for friendship may be limited to the residents residing in the same CCRC. In ALCs, healthier residents have fewer opportunities for new friends. Opportunities are constrained by the higher proportion of mentally and physically infirm residents and therefore fewer activities that can enable social relationships. Even administrative policies that govern something as seemingly innocuous as assigned seating for meals can have consequences in that they can either increase or reduce the options for new relationships. Positive social experiences during meals between residents or between residents and staff can enhance psychological health. Relationships between residents and staff can also offer opportunities for social interaction and friendships, but care-giving staff members are often too busy for developing close relationships with residents. Depending on their age and how healthy they are, they may see their time left as short and thus new friendships that go beyond the surface as being not worth the effort. However, they may not be able to maintain previous close friendships for various reasons such as declining physical and mental health (for both parties) as well as the lack of transportation or distance. This can make residents feel isolated, lonely, and removed from society. Studies that have examined computer and Internet use as a way of moderating the negative effects of relocation on older adults have found a positive relationship between computer and Internet use and quality-of-life outcomes.