Older and more mindful? The utility of mindfulness and meditation for well-being in older adulthood

Author: Leeann Mahlo

Mahlo, Leeann, 2021 Older and more mindful? The utility of mindfulness and meditation for well-being in older adulthood, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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Mindfulness refers to paying attention to the present-moment in a purposeful, receptive, and nonjudgmental way. A significant body of research has demonstrated that mindfulness can be instrumental in reducing stress and promoting positive psychological outcomes. However, empirical research on the processes through which mindfulness affects well-being is limited and is recognised as a priority for the field. Furthermore, few studies have considered the positive effects of mindfulness on psychological functioning from a lifespan perspective. In particular, relatively few studies have focused on the utility of mindfulness for well-being among older adults, and none have examined the use of contemporary forms of mindfulness training (e.g., app-based programs) with this population. The overarching purpose of this thesis was to extend existing knowledge regarding mindfulness and its potential utility for adaptive ageing, through a series of three empirical studies.

The first cross-sectional study examined the role of age in moderating associations of mindfulness components with well-being in the context of a proposed model of mindfulness. Results showed that most mindfulness components were positively associated with age; and that the relationships between (1) present-moment attention and well-being, (2) nonjudgment and well-being, and (3) decentering and flexible goal adjustment became stronger with age and were significant for adults from middle-adulthood onwards.

The second experience-sampling study examined state-level mindfulness, hassles and uplifts, and well-being in the daily lives of middle-aged and older adults. Results showed that the state-mindfulness facets present-moment attention and nonjudgmental acceptance were predictive of greater affective well-being in later adulthood. Moreover, nonjudgmental acceptance appeared to buffer affective reactivity to daily hassles, and importantly, this effect was stronger at older ages. Mindful states did not, however, appear to provide any extra boost to uplift-related mood.

The final study investigated the feasibility and acceptability of an app-based mindfulness-meditation program for community-based older adults and the effects of participation on well-being. Here, participants engaged with a 30-day app-based mindfulness-meditation program for 10-minutes daily on their smartphones. In general, older adults found app-based mindfulness-meditation training interesting, enjoyable, valuable, and useful. Results also showed significant improvements in positive affect, negative affect, and life satisfaction across the study interval; but no meaningful change in mindfulness or perceived stress.

Overall, the thesis extends existing knowledge on mindfulness and adaptive ageing. The empirical findings provide evidence that (a) the dispositional tendency to focus on the present-moment and adopt a nonjudgmental orientation may become especially important for well-being with advancing age, and the ability to appreciate the transitory nature of personal experiences may be particularly important for flexible employment of goal disengagement and reengagement strategies across the second half of life; (b) adopting a nonevaluative and accepting orientation toward momentary experiences may be a psychological strategy that has particular utility for mitigating emotional reactivity to daily stressors with increasing age; and (c) app-based mindfulness-meditation training with community-based older adults is feasible and acceptable and can potentially facilitate benefits for well-being. Together, these findings can inform the development of programs aimed at promoting mindful qualities and well-being for adults in midlife and beyond.

Keywords: Mindfulness, Meditation, Well-Being, Age, Older Adulthood

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Associate Professor Tim Windsor