Impact of physical and mental health on life satisfaction in old age: a population based observational study

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Thomas Puvill, Jolanda Lindenberg, Antonius J. M. de Craen, Joris P. J. Slaets, Rudi G. J. Westendorp

BACKGROUND: It is widely assumed that poor health lowers life satisfaction when ageing. Yet, research suggests this relationship is not straightforward. This study investigated how older people evaluate their life when facing disease and disabilities.

METHODS: The Leiden 85-plus Study, a prospectively followed cohort of a cohort of a middle-sized city in the Netherlands, all aged 85 years, that was age-representative of the general population, was used. Those with severe cognitive dysfunction were excluded (n = 501). Comorbidities, physical performance, cognitive function, functional status, residual lifespan, depressive symptoms and experienced loneliness were measured during home visits. Life satisfaction was self-reported with Cantril's ladder. All analyses were performed using regression analysis.

RESULTS: Participants reported high life satisfaction (median 8 out of 10 points) despite having representative levels of disease and disability. Comorbidity, low cognitive function, and residual lifespan as markers of health were not associated with life satisfaction. Poor physical performance and low functional status were weakly but significantly associated with lower life satisfaction (p < 0.05 respectively p < 0.001), but significance was lost after adjustment for depressive symptoms and perceived loneliness. Depressive symptoms and perceived loneliness were strongly related to lower life satisfaction (both p < 0.001), even after adjustment for physical health characteristics.

CONCLUSION: Poor physical health was hardly related to lower life satisfaction, whereas poor mental health was strongly related to lower life satisfaction. This indicates that mental health has a greater impact on life satisfaction at old age than physical health, and that physical health is less relevant for a satisfactory old age.

Original languageEnglish
Article number194
JournalB M C Geriatrics
Volume16
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
ISSN1471-2318
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2016

ID: 169931263