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The Construction of Meaning in Old Age: Possibilities and Constraints

  • Freya Dittmann-Kohli (a1)

Abstract

Historically, ageing processes have often been perceived as growing constraints to a good life, but proposals for a reorganization of positive meanings also date back at least to Roman times. In order to study age-related reorganization of meaning, self-descriptive statements of 300 young and 300 elderly adults were collected with a sentence completion test. A coding scheme was used to identify age-specific meaning patterns.

In contrast to young adults, elderly people completed problem- and future-oriented sentence stems significantly more often by referring to negative aspects of their own ageing process. Nevertheless, their answers to self-referent sentence stems showed that they used significantly more positive and fewer negative or ambivalent statements about self and life. The analysis of the overall patterns of cognitions in both age groups suggested that, within the existential constraints of old age, positive meaning is created by elderly people through various cognitive-affective strategies. For instance, instead of maintaining high expectations for life realization and self-development, the elderly change their standards, becoming more self-accepting and value more highly what is already given and still available. Conclusions are drawn about life-span development and modifiability of meaning.

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