Aging is often seen as time of decline, complicated by challenges like depression, loneliness, dementia, and functional impairments. As older adults live longer, there is a growing need to understand how older adults can live fulfilling lives as they age. Centenarians are a great source of knowledge on this topic. With the aim of understanding the secret to living a fulfilling life in old age, four nursing researchers and a documentary film maker spent time with six female centenarians in assisted living communities. In their pursuit for knowledge, they found that centenarians had plenty worth living for.
Having lived through the Great Depression and World War II, the six centenarians have had many opportunities to gain resilience as they aged. Opportunities like these likely reshaped their definitions of happiness by putting challenges into perspective. One centenarian argued, “I don’t know what’s really to complain about. I went through life staying happy.”
The centenarians noted the need to find joy in their daily lives. For instance, they found joy by engaging in activities like playing the piano, gambling, playing solitaire, reminiscing about their interesting lives, and appreciating visits and treats from family. Family remained central components of their lives, with one expressing enjoyment in watching their grandchildren perform in music concerts.
Although centenarians expressed frustration with the growing number of limitations that they face, they noted the importance of accepting their age and their limitations as challenges to overcome. One centenarian noted that they are “constantly rebelling against [their] situation physically.” Another noted the need to challenge norms of what their age and disability meant.
The centenarians had an interesting perspective on what it means to live for the future. While few had plans for themselves and preferred to focus on joy in their day-to-day lives, they took pride in how their families could make the world a better place in the future.
The nursing researchers and filmmaker ultimately found that centenarians still live fulfilling lives by putting challenges into perspective, finding joy, acting their age, and looking forward to the future.
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