This is the third in a series of literature reviews of purpose in life across the lifespan. Medline was searched using the term “purpose in life” and retrieved papers were assessed for inclusion according to relevance. Studies which included older adults but focused on a specific illness or other population characteristic were excluded. The studies could be broadly categorised as those investigating physiological and psychological correlates of purpose in life and those examining the relationship between purpose in life and illness measures. The construct of mental QOL (Quality of Life) was significantly correlated with purpose in life in a Japanese study (paper freely available here). In a study of the oldest old there was strong correlation between a number of measures including purpose in life and resilience with the researchers referring to the constructs as representing inner strength. Another construct ‘proactive coping’ measured using the Proactive Coping Inventory was significantly correlated with purpose in life using a component of the Health and Wellbeing scale in an Australian cross-sectional study involving community dwelling older adults. Purpose in life was correlated with functioning using activities of daily living in older adults living in the community in another study. In a qualitative study examining older adult women’s views about purpose in life, this was found to be related to a number of themes and was experienced in daily activities. IL-6 receptor levels were significantly correlated with purpose in life scores in older adult women in one study. Purpose in life mediated the influence of a number of factors on quality of life in a study of older adults (n=420). Being a formal volunteer interacted with a number of factors influenced by purpose in life scores in one study of older adults.
A Swedish 5-year longitudinal study looking at the very old, the researchers found that purpose in life (measured with the Purpose in Life Test (PIL)) decreased over time and that the decrease was significantly correlated with female gender and depression at baseline. The same group also identified an inverse correlation between purpose in life and depression in a cross-sectional analysis. In another Swedish study of people aged 85 years and over, the researchers found that attitudes towards the person’s own health strongly influenced the purpose in life scores. Late-life depression was correlated with loss of purpose in life in a large Japanese study (n=10969). Purpose in life was significantly correlated with a reduction in cognitive decline a large 7-year longitudinal study (paper freely available here and reviewed here). Purpose in life was one of the factors significantly associated with caregiver distress in people caring for older adults at home. High scores of purpose in life were significantly associated with reduced mortality in a study of older adults (paper freely available here – also see another paper freely available here). The physical extent of movement referred to as ‘life space’ was examined in one study of older adults where the researchers found a significantly correlation between increasing extent of movement and purpose in life.
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