Meaning in life of older persons: An integrative literature review

Nurs Ethics. 2018 Dec;25(8):973-991. doi: 10.1177/0969733016680122. Epub 2016 Dec 21.


Background:: Meaning in life of older persons is related to well-being, health, quality of life, and "good life." However, the topic is scarcely covered in nursing literature.

Objective:: The aim of this integrative review for nurses is to synthesize knowledge from scholarly literature to provide insight into how older persons find meaning in life, what are influencing circumstances, and what are their sources of meaning. The review serves as a starting point for including meaning in life of older persons as a major concern for nurses in their role as health promoters.

Method:: An integrative review was performed including empirical research literature and texts on theoretical perspectives.

Ethical consideration:: Researches agree with ethical codes for research of universities in the Netherlands. For literature reviews no additional procedures are necessary according to Dutch law.

Findings:: A total of 44 heterogeneous texts were included in this review. Finding meaning in life is challenging for older persons. Older persons find meaning through a developmental process, by creating and discovering. Meaning in life is found in connection with self and others. Health, living together, high socio-economic status, social relations, activities, and religion are associated with experiencing meaning in later life. The main source of meaning in life of older persons is human relationships. Other sources of meaning in life vary by age and culture.

Discussion:: The review provides insight into meaning in life of older persons. There are several gaps in knowledge: literature is culturally biased, research on discovery of meaning and daily meaning is limited, and research from a nursing perspective is lacking. In practice, nurses have many opportunities to attune to meaning in life of patients. Further development of competence and training are needed.

Conclusion:: Older persons find meaning in life through different processes. Meaning in life is associated with the circumstances old persons live in. Human relationship is the major source of meaning. The knowledge from this review is a necessary knowledge base for nurses to include meaning in life of older patients in care. Further research is needed to explore the role of nurses.

Keywords: Care of the older person; literature review; meaning in life; nursing; well-being.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Geriatric Nursing
  • Humans
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Value of Life*