Look on the Bright Side: Optimism Fosters Life Satisfaction in Older Adults with Activity Limitations

Researchers from the Environmental and Occupational Health at Texas A&M University School of Public Health are sharing interesting findings from their study of the relationship between activity limitations and life satisfaction. The researchers used data from years 2008 through 2018 of the Health and Retirement Study. Their results are indicating that optimism can positively influence life satisfaction, and that optimism itself can offset the negative effects that activity limitations have on life satisfaction. This seems to indicate that older adults with limitations on activities of daily living (ADL) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) are not doomed to lower levels of life satisfaction.

In their analysis of the data, the researchers set parameters on older adults in the HRS sample set who completed responses for the variables of interest (life satisfaction, ADL, IADL, optimism, age, education, and self-rated health). This resulted in an overall analytic sample of 39,122 older adults. Results indicated that activity limitations were negatively associated with life satisfaction. However, when researchers ran the models with the variable optimism, that relationship was less negative. To the researchers, this seemed to indicate that optimism has a protective effect by lessening the detrimental effects that activity limitations can have on life satisfaction.

This study set out to explore what role, if any, optimism has on the relationship between activity limitations and life satisfaction. First researchers found that at baseline, the impact of activity limitations on life satisfaction results in diminished life satisfaction over time, which means that it has deleterious effects for older age. Yet, researchers also found that factors like optimism can intervene, and mitigate the intensity felt on life satisfaction by activity limitations.


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Cheng, K. J. G., McCaughan, D. J., & Smith, M. L. (2022). The Role of Optimism on the Relationship Between Activity Limitations and Life Satisfaction Among Middle-Aged and Older Adults in the United States: A Growth Curve Model of Changes Over Time. Journal of Applied Gerontology41(4), 993-1001.


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