Meaning in life in three samples of elderly persons with high cognitive functioning

Int J Aging Hum Dev. 2001;53(1):51-73. doi: 10.2190/WBUG-NRKM-XJ7A-5QWP.


The study examined the relationships between meaning in life and cognitive functioning in three elderly samples. The participants in Sample I were 78 persons aged 82-87, in Sample II 182 persons aged 83-92, and in Sample III 299 persons aged 65-69. The samples took part in interviews and cognitive tests in 1996-1997. Several interview questions together with the Sense of Coherence questionnaire were used to study the degree and content of meaning in life. Cognitive functioning was measured by Digit Span, Digit Symbol, and Word Fluency in Sample I and Mini-D in Samples II and III. Each sample was divided into the group of persons with high cognitive functioning (including those whose results in cognitive tests fell in the top third of their age cohort) and the comparison group (including the rest of the sample). The analysis showed no difference between the groups in the degree of meaning in life in any of the three samples. The content of meaning in life differed in the two groups: human relationships were reported as a reason for meaning in life and a source of strength in life more often by the persons with high cognitive functioning than by the comparison group. Moreover, those with high cognitive functioning reported that they had taken up a new activity (especially one involving social interests) that gave a sense of meaning in life after retirement more often than the comparison group. Death had positive meaning for the majority of the participants and the groups did not differ in meaning of death. The interactions between the various measures of meaning in life showed that having a sense of coherence and zest for life were factors related to the sense of meaningfulness in life. Meaning of death was not related to other measures.

MeSH terms

  • Aged / psychology*
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Death
  • Cognition / classification*
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Marital Status
  • Psychometrics
  • Retirement / psychology
  • Sampling Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Value of Life*