Meanings in the lives of older adults: In their own voices

Isabel A Trombetti, University of Rhode Island


This dissertation attempts to advance our understanding of how we as human beings perceive, judge, and evaluate our lives, particularly in the last stage of the life cycle. The primary goal was to counterbalance the predominantly quantitative approach to meaning in life by interviewing 21 older adults as they reflected on and attempted to find purpose and value in the totality of their experiences. Guided by the approach of phenomenology which emphasizes immediate description, the participants' responses to interview questions were summarized and, to the extent possible, reporting preserved their actual words. Participants articulated in their own voices that (1) "meaning in life" is about helping others; (2) having a sense of purpose; (3) maintaining relationships---especially with family; and (4) subjective well-being. They reported that life has been and continues to be meaningful and they attributed their sense of meaning to relationships, agency and control, helping others, and faith. The second goal explored the relationship between meaning in life and quality of life through self-report estimates. Participants indicated how much meaning in and quality of life they perceive having both in the present and retrospectively for life as a whole. Results indicated that quality of life in the present did not diminish relative to the past, meaning in life in the past correlated with quality of life, but estimates of meaning in life in the present did not correlate with either quality of life estimates or with meaning in life in the past. This supports the notion that meaning in life is conceived as distinct from quality of life. It also accords with Erikson's psychosocial theory of development which predicts that during late adulthood individuals confront the inevitability of a finite existence and, from this perspective, review the life they've lived, hoping to achieve a sense of integrity. The third goal was to compare a larger sample of older adults with a sample of college students on overall quality of life. Analysis revealed that older adults reported higher quality of life and also differed with regard to the different dimensions that contributed to quality of life. ^

Subject Area

Gerontology|Psychology, Developmental|Psychology, Experimental

Recommended Citation

Isabel A Trombetti, "Meanings in the lives of older adults: In their own voices" (2005). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3188850.