Existentialism in Long-Term Care: What Factors Contribute to Our Sense of Meaning and Purpose in Life?

November 17, 2017 | Aging Services Risk, Quality, & Safety Guidance

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​Finding meaning and purpose in life is widely viewed as key to maintaining a healthy outlook and lifestyle at any age, but can it also improve the quality of life in long-term care residents? And what helps to promote or support a resident's meaning and purpose? A study recently published in BMC Geriatrics found that many residents believe their meaning and purpose in life is centered on their physical and mental well-being, sense of belonging and recognition, personally treasured activities, and spiritual connectedness. Finding meaning and purpose in life can be more difficult for older adults considering the increased risks of chronic illness, symptoms of dementia, and stressful life events that can affect mental health, such as the loss of loved ones or moving away from home. However, the authors of the study suggest that a nursing home resident's overall satisfaction is deeply rooted in “the experience of meaning" and is “significantly related to quality of life." The study was conducted from 2004 to 2005—with follow-up until 2011—through interviews with 18 nursing-home residents living in Norway who were 77 to 92 years of age, lived in a nursing home for at least six months, were capable of carrying out a conversation, and had a clinical dementia rating of 0.5 or less. Initial interviews consisted of existential questions such as: What brings meaning to your life?

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