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Purpose in life over a five-year period: a longitudinal study in a very old population

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 December 2010

Pia Hedberg
Department of Nursing, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden
Christine Brulin
Department of Nursing, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden
Lena Aléx
Department of Nursing, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden
Yngve Gustafson
Department of Community Medicine and Rehabilitation, Geriatric Medicine, Umeå University, Umeå, Sweden
E-mail address:


Background: Few studies have specifically examined purpose in life among very old people, and we know of none that has used a prospective approach. The aim of this study was to examine changes in purpose in life over five years in very old men and women and to investigate whether depressed mood, malnutrition, inactivity in daily life, or cognitive impairment increased the risk for developing low purpose in life.

Methods: The study includes data from 51 participants (42 women and 9 men) living in northern Sweden who completed the Purpose in Life (PIL) Test once at baseline and again five years later.

Results: Purpose in life decreased over five years and the decrease was significantly associated with being a woman (p < 0.001) and having depressed mood (p = 0.009) or depression (p = 0.002) at baseline. There were no differences in baseline PIL scores between depressed and not depressed, but those who had depression had significantly decreased PIL scores after five years (p = 0.001).

Conclusion: A strong purpose in life does not seem to prevent very old people from developing depression, and being depressed at baseline and living with depression over five years is associated with a loss of purpose in life.

Research Article
Copyright © International Psychogeriatric Association 2010

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