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Elder Quality of Life

Referring to a most amazingly fleet-of-foot dancer in a video on Saturday's Interesting Stuff post, Darlene Costner commented,

”I would be grateful if I could still walk without staggering like an old drunk.”

I certainly understand that and when I read it, I was reminded of a new Pew Research Center study about the views of various age groups on what constitutes quality of life in old age.

Well, actually most of the survey is about end-of-life medical treatment and we can/should discuss that another day. What caught my immediate interest, however, are these related questions about how we measure our quality of life.

Here is one of the charts showing the percentage of respondents who judge their lives now as better, the same as or worse than 10 years ago, by age group:

Quality of Life Looking Back

The Pew analysts looked at these numbers and, it appears to me, mimicked the media's general negatvism about old age, writing:

"...older adults are much less inclined than younger ones to see improvement. Just three-in-ten adults ages 75 and older say their lives today are better than they were a decade earlier.

”By contrast, about twice as many adults ages 18-49 (66%) say their lives are better today than in the past.”

I see it differently. I look at the chart and see that 70 percent of people 75 and older see their lives as better today or the same as it was 10 years previously, and in one's eighth or ninth decade, maintaining the status quo should not be ignored as a good thing.

The Pew study also has a chart for the reverse assessment: the percentage who say their lives will be better, the same as or worse ten years from now:

Quality of Life Forward

Once again, the Pew analysts see the numbers pessimistically:

”Only about a fifth (19%) of adults ages 75 and older expect their lives to get better in the future.”

What I see, instead, is 63 percent of people 75 and older believe their quality of life will be the same or better in ten years. (In both these charts, the “don't knows” are not shown.)

To feel good enough at 75 to believe your quality of life will remain the same is an achievement that Pew overlooks.

I'm not quite that old but given my good health throughout my life and now at 72.5, I am cautiously optimistic about my how good my life will be in 10 years.

I am fully aware that compared to 30 or 40 years ago I have a much higher chance of running into health problems that can decrease my enjoyment of life. But I see no reason to let that curtail my optimism and will cross those bridges if and when they appear.

Perhaps Pew analysts need to consult some people who are older than they are about these results to understand the optimism of choosing “same as” at age 75.

Of course, with all of this, we do need to ask what we mean by quality of life and Pew does that. Here are the results for what is “extremely important to quality of life” in what Pew calls “older age” (undoubtedly because no one is allowed to use the word “old” in our age-phobic culture).

Important for quality of life

It amuses me that no age group ranks “having short term memory” above 32 percent as “extremely important” for quality of life in old age and all ages place it last on the list. Maybe I'm making too much of it when I can't remember why I've walked into the kitchen.

How does all this jibe with your ideas about what contributes to your quality of life in old age?

You can read the entire Pew Research Center study here.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joyce Benedict: The Lima Bean Caper


These graphs tell me that we seniors are fairly easy to please and, overall, relatively happy to be alive! As a rule.

Seniors know that having short-term memory isn't all that important!

I'm sorry, my bar for importance of quality of life is far higher than the older people on that survey.

I want to be independent and have no severe lasting pain, thank you. You become a burden after a while if you don't stay functional.

I hope to continue strong until the end.
If not, I will need lots of antidepressants to not care.

I would rank having short term memory as very high indeed. I don't mind not being able to think of a particular word or name now and then as I'm juggling with two languages. But I'm quite fond of having discussions in my head, as well as reading a lot. To find that thoughts escape me and I need to keep refreshing my memory re plot and characters in my book are quite distressing. Other than these quality of life is good for me and I will meet any other future changes as and when.

There are many things that contribute to quality of life and it's obvious that feeling good is one of them. But you can be very healthy and if you do not have enough money to maintain a reasonable standard of living you will probably not think your life quality is very good.

Three freedoms that apply to elders as well as the younger generation are : Freedom of want, freedom of fear, and freedom of discrimination. Of course, I am not using the freedoms from the Bill Of Rights, (press, religion, and speech) but paraphrasing them.

If we have enough money to sustain us, are safe and secure in our surroundings and can still live independently we are probably enjoying things that we did not have when we were younger.
Therefore, our quality of life is much better.

Most of us no longer have to worry about being unemployed, responsibilities for others or other mundane things that caused stress. Ergo: our quality of life is much better.

There is, of course, a trade off. We know that our health is no longer what it used to be, our strength lessens, we tire easily and illness takes it's toll, but I am happy to make that trade. My quality of life is the best it has ever been, thank you.

The fact that people over 75 place little importance on things like being able to communicate or feed yourself or "getting enjoyment" out of life is actually pretty depressing. It just reinforces the
emperor's new clothes thingie about aging - it really does suck.

Darlene hits the nail in her fourth paragraph. Younger people have no idea how wonderful it is to not have to 'worry' about making a living.

The last chart baffles me: Either people think far more deeply about what really matters, or they didn't understand the questions. I would have thought ALL those issues would be greater for older people. I've met some older people for whom a certain degree of dependence seems perfectly acceptable, but I'm not one of them.

I've also come to see that pain, if not managed well, is akin to any life experience which helps us see that death is a merciful release when our bodies or minds are no longer able to function with some degree of normalcy. Medical science can help some, but once several systems start to fail, mostly what I've seen happen is medicine just mucks it up and makes the last months or years worse, and last longer. I'll be looking forward to that discussion.

Darlene, your comments so meaningful to me.
Thank you...

I'd rate independence (including being able to drive) very high on the list). And while it may be funny to forget why you went to the kitchen, it could be tragic to forget you left the stove on. Short term memory is important!

The definition of quality of life is a moving target, likely changing a bit with increasing age. Still, loving relationships, financial security and freedom from pain are all probably important at every age. At 78 (almost), most important to a high quality of life, besides the above, is my mobility and independence. I fear losing them, and hope I die before I lose my eyesight. I don't think most young people think about this much, but with advancing age they become more and more important.

Darlene has nailed what I hope I have as I age further: "If we have enough money to sustain us, are safe and secure in our surroundings and can still live independently we are probably enjoying things that we did not have when we were younger."

I will not be able to escape some disabilities of age; we mostly can't. But If I am sustained, safe and secure, I can still explore til the end. Or so I believe.

It is interesting, though, to see what Ronnie noted - the way the numbers are interpreted. In the first set of graphs, I'm kind of intrigued by the 16% of 75+-ers who apparently have no expectation whatsoever for the future!

I think a lot of these people must be living in a dream world. They do not understand the implications of living with severe pain, unable to feed or dress yourself or communicate your pain, hunger, thirst or medical needs.

I live with significant, constant pain and muscle weakness which makes it difficult to function many days, and my quality of life is seriously affected.

If I had to have someone feed and dress me, and could not communicate in any meaningful way I'd just as soon check out.

The way that I see it, if I can have 10 really good years, I'm happy. I mean no work stress, no romantic stress, no health stress, no family stress, and financially secure. I see 10 years as more than most world inhabitants can expect, so I'd be very happy if I can do this. I'm starting now. See me in 2026 to see if I made it.

I'm okay right now with my level of health (most of the time) and with our level of living, however, I'm not sure how long our money will last and I do worry about that. Especially since we are being sued and could possibly lose everything.

They've done away with the poorhouses and I doubt we could live on our Social Security alone.

Some people are in denial about the difficulties of aging.

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