What makes us happy
New study identifies predictors of happiness and depression in older seniors
Searching for the key to happiness? Iowa State University researchers think they’ve found it.
The school’s gerontology program recently conducted a study that identifies the predictors of happiness and depression late in life.
Researchers posed questions that “assessed happiness, perceived health, social provision, economic security and life satisfaction” to 158 seniors at least 100 years of age. What they discovered was that resources did not affect happiness but that “past life satisfaction — even recalling isolated individual achievements — had a direct association, proving to be the key to happiness in oldest years”.
Another study, featuring 78 seniors in their 80s as well as a sample of the seniors from the previous study, aimed to identify the predictors of depression. The researchers found that “diminished cognitive problem-solving ability proved to be a significant predictor of depressive symptoms in octogenarians (those in their 80s), while living in a nursing home and great neurotic tendencies increased depression among centenarians (those at least 100)”.
For both groups, overall cognition surprisingly was “not a strong predictor of depressive symptoms. Rather it was the loss of control — problem solving in the octogenarians, and choosing where they lived in the centenarians — that tended to depress individuals".
“The past is the best predictor of the future, so you’re not going to turn your life around at 85 or 90,” Peter Martin, director of the university’s gerontology program, told the ICAA. “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.”
The findings from this study led researchers to encourage caregivers to “implement programs, including reminiscence therapy and structured life review sessions, to foster feelings of happiness among very old populations”. They also “suggest that caregivers in nursing homes make efforts to converse more with residents (even briefly) to help ease their depressive symptoms”.
What does this mean for you? You can take steps now to ensure you enjoy a higher quality of life in your golden years.
Talk about options now: One of the key indicators of depression, especially in older seniors, was the inability to choose living arrangements. There are many senior living options today and a premature move to a nursing home is unnecessary. The different options include home health care, independent retirement living, Continuing Care Retirement Communities, assisted living and more. Discuss your hopes for retirement with family early before circumstances require a sudden move.
Get involved: Remember the importance of socialization! Find groups, clubs, organizations, or causes that interest you. In addition to the many mental and physical benefits of socialization, connecting with others who share similar interests can be the foundation of a support system later in life.
Hang on to the past: Keep mementos (scrapbooks, journals, photos, or even just mental notes), that detail important fond memories in your life. You will value these as you age and your family is likely to enjoy them as well.