Purpose in Life and Positive Health Outcomes Among Older Adults

Popul Health Manag. 2018 Apr;21(2):139-147. doi: 10.1089/pop.2017.0063. Epub 2017 Jul 5.


Purpose in life (PIL) is conceptualized as having goals, a sense of direction, and a feeling that there is meaning to present and past life. PIL has been associated with positive health outcomes among older adults, including fewer chronic conditions, less disability, and reduced mortality. The purpose of this study was to estimate the prevalence of PIL among AARP Medicare Supplement insureds, identify associated characteristics, and measure impact on selected health outcomes. In 2016, surveys were sent to a random stratified sample; PIL was measured using a 7-item scale with 5 responses. Scores were averaged across responses and categorized to PIL levels of low, medium, and high. Survey responses were weighted to adjust for nonresponse bias and to weight to a nationally representative population. Multivariate regression models, adjusting for confounding covariates, were utilized to determine characteristics associated with PIL levels and the impact on health care utilization and expenditures, preventive services compliance and quality of life (QOL). Among weighted survey respondents (N = 15,680), low, medium, and high PIL levels were 24.2%, 21.1%, and 54.7%, respectively. The strongest characteristics of medium and high PIL included social support, resilience, reliance on faith, high health literacy, and good health status. Individuals with medium and high PIL had significantly lower health care utilization and expenditures, increased preventive services compliance, and higher QOL. PIL is strongly associated with improved mental and physical health outcomes among older adults. Thus, interventions to improve and/or maintain higher levels of PIL over time may promote successful aging.

Keywords: Medicare; Medicare Supplement; health outcomes; older adults; purpose in life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Goals*
  • Health Expenditures / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicare
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Quality of Life*
  • United States