What's the Point? Ageing with purpose

Author: Justine Irving

Irving, Justine, 2022 What's the Point? Ageing with purpose, Flinders University, College of Nursing and Health Sciences

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Increasing longevity is a collective global achievement. To maximise the opportunities associated with an ageing population requires greater understanding of how older adults can be supported to optimise not only good health and wellbeing but also their ability to meaningfully contribute to the society in which they age. Contemporary research suggests a sense of purpose may sustain, predict and promote better psychological and physical health in older age. Purpose can be derived from relationships, societal, work or familial roles, pursuit of personal goals, maintaining independence, community engagement or participation in activities that are individually meaningful. Although the varied benefits of purpose are increasingly recognised, there is more to learn about the how and why of purpose in later life. Older adults can have difficulty maintaining purpose as age related loss of social roles, relations, and cognitive, sensory or physical function may prevent older adults from engaging in activities that have traditionally made life purposeful. The intent of this study was to further existing understanding of how purpose is experienced by older adults living in residential aged care and the community. This included exploration of how purpose can differ across settings and the mechanisms through which it may be supported. Applying a phenomenographical approach, sixty older adults living within the South Australian community or aged care residential setting were interviewed. Study design, analysis and discussion were informed by a model of successful ageing: selective optimisation with compensation. The outcomes of this study build upon the limited body of evidence defining “purpose” from the perspectives of older adults themselves. Furthermore, this study contributes to the sparse qualitative evidence examining the application of selective optimisation and compensation strategies relevant to the maintenance of purpose. Implications of study findings are discussed.

Keywords: purpose, sense of purpose, purpose in life, ageing, older adults, later life

Subject: Ageing Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Supervisor: Associate Professor Ruth Walker