Getting Old And Feeling Well: What Is The Secret?

A group of German researchers, headed by Gudrun Schneider (University of Munster) explored the characteristics of psychological well-being in an elderly population in an article published in the Nov-Dec 2003 issue of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.

Recent gerontological research shows a high variability in the elderly population. The aim of the present study is to investigate by means of cluster analysis, as to whether different ’ageing styles’ can be identified in a sample of cognitively not impaired older persons, and to assess discrepancies between self-rated and expert-rated psychological and physical health.

243 patients aged 60 years and older in a general hospital were investigated using a clinical psychiatric interview, expert ratings, and self-report scales after extensive internal medical diagnostic evaluation. Five clusters, representing significantly different ’ageing styles’ with regard to subjective well-being and subjective physical complaints, could be identified.

Two clusters, which together constituted 57% of the sample, represented quite positive and desirable ageing styles. In two clusters (altogether 23% of the sample), there was a discrepancy between medical findings and subjective physical complaints.

These findings support the notion of high variability in the elderly and the existence of subgroups, which show a discrepancy between subjective assessment of well-being and expert assessment of psychological and physical health and impairment. The recording of subjectively perceived physical complaints should, therefore, be part of the evaluation of older peoples’ subjective well-being.

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