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Happiness of Centenarians

Researchers Identify Secrets to Happiness, Depression Among Oldest of Old

ScienceDaily (Apr. 11, 2010) — Researchers from Iowa State University's gerontology program have helped identify what predicts happiness and long life in centenarians, as well as what causes depression in 80-somethings and above.

In a study of 158 Georgia centenarians, the researchers found that past satisfaction with life -- even if it's simply recalling isolated career accomplishments -- is the key to happiness in our oldest years.

"The past is the best predictor of the future, so you're not going to turn your life around at 85 or 90," said Peter Martin, director of Iowa State's gerontology program and a professor of human development and family studies (HDFS), who collaborated on both studies. "But it's also good to know that past accomplishments and the happiness that you had -- looking back at your past -- carries you through these very last years."

For the depression study, researchers added 78 octogenarians (people 80 or older) to the happiness centenarian sample. They found that diminished cognitive problem-solving ability was a significant predictor of depressive symptoms in octogenarians, while living in a nursing home and greater neurotic tendencies increased depression among centenarians.

Both studies were published online in the Jan. 26 issue of the journal Gerontology. Jennifer Margrett, an assistant professor of HDFS, was the lead author on the depression study. Alex Bishop, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Oklahoma State University (who was a doctoral student at Iowa State), was lead author of the happiness study.

Past life satisfaction pays happiness dividends

In that study, researchers analyzed the subjects' responses to a series of questions that assessed their happiness, perceived health, social provisions, economic security and life satisfaction. While there was no indication that resources affect happiness, past life satisfaction -- even individual achievements -- was found to have a direct association.

Because of their results, the researchers urge caregivers of the elderly to implement programs -- including reminiscence therapy and structured life review sessions -- to foster feelings of happiness among very old populations.

"You can be not overly satisfied with your overall current capacity and physical well-being, but you can still be a very happy person because there's a lot you can contribute just by sharing some of the things that nobody knew because it was 80 or 90 years ago," said Martin, who is also in the second year of a three-year study of Iowa centenarians.

In the second other study, researchers measured depressive symptoms, demographics and functional indicators, cognition and personality in the subjects. They then compared the ability of cognition, personality, and demographic and functional indicators in explaining depressive symptoms in the octogenarians and centenarians respectively.

They were surprised to learn that overall cognition was not a stronger predictor of depressive symptoms at either age. Rather, it was the loss of the subject's control -- problem-solving in the octogenarians, and choosing where they lived in the centenarians -- that tended to depress them.

"In the case of the octogenarians, it's not so much your intellectual ability as it is the ability to come up with a solution to a particular task that you used to be able to solve in your 60s and 70s," Martin said. "And so for the first time, you realize that there may be decline in being able to manage tasks.

"And at 100, it's not so much the surrounding of the nursing home that gets you depressed," he added. "But in a nursing home, two things have changed. First, there's a sign that you cannot take care of yourself anymore. And then there's the sign that you know you only have limited time to live, which is different for an 80-year-old."

Elderly worried about direction country is headed

The research also confirmed that worry and anxiety contribute to depression in centenarians. And one of the things they're worried about, according to Martin, is the direction the country is headed and the world they're leaving for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Martin says these studies have practical applications for elderly care providers.

"When we have professionals who work with elderly in nursing homes, we pay so much attention to the helping condition -- make sure they eat, make sure they have their hygiene taken care of, and so forth -- but you also have to work on the mood aspect of it," Martin said. "And I know people who work in nursing homes have difficult jobs, but just a brief conversation with a very old person can lighten up their entire day."

The research team also published two related papers in the Jan. 26 issue of Gerontology. One confirms the importance of family history on present-day functioning among centenarians and octogenarians, while the other analyzed the influences on their economic dependenc
6 Responses
139792 tn?1498589250
This article highlights ' Reminiscence Therapy' for elderly patients. I am sure you are administrating your clients the same therapy. Quite interesting article for those specially tending  older people.
Avatar universal
Very interesting article:-)  I have found that older people able to talk about their past enjoy doing so.  They are a treasure trove in the memory department :-)))

Some with dementia or Alzheimer's can sing songs they have memories of ....my current client does this.  Not much with language, but songs & smiles are plentiful in spurts.

I will have to think over this to share more of my perspective.  Thank you for sharing it :-))
455167 tn?1259261471
Hi. Thanks for sharing this. If you want to both be of service as well as experience enlightenment, visit a rest home. Many of the residents are forgotten, and a simple visit or kind word can make a tremendous impact, as well as receiving their outlooks and memories of their lives and accomplishments. These are the folks who worked and fought hard to make this nation great, and deserve the utmost respect and dignity. Take care, GM
139792 tn?1498589250
I had made plans to pass my remaining time( i am nearing 80) at some Ashram where yoga and meditation is given top priority. I am not able to follow my plan because of domestic constrain. However, I pass my time in reading, surfing  and doing yoga and meditation. I used to attend seminars or workshops in the past. Because of poor vision and deafness i had to curtail my visits. I have made my home as a mini-Ashram. I type and read with the help of magnifying glass. So life goes on. Thanks for your well meant suggestion.
139792 tn?1498589250
I have recently subscribed to www.anmolmehta.com . It is a website on yoga and meditation.It  has free ebooks, videos, blog on yoga, meditation and very helpful articles on spirituality. He is frank and pragmatic.Just visit.
Avatar universal
:-))  TY for sharing this
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