What Can We Learn About the Concept of Meaning in Life from Older Adults with Alzheimer’s Disease? A Directed Content Analysis Study

Laura Dewitte*, Tine Schellekens, Michael F. Steger, Frank Martela, Siebrecht Vanhooren, Mathieu Vandenbulcke, Jessie Dezutter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Meaning in life has grown into a topic of great interest in psychological research. Conceptually, scholars differentiate between sources and components of meaning. However, the current scholarly views on meaning are highly cognitive and it is unclear to what extent they correspond with the understanding of lay people with cognitive difficulties, like those with Alzheimer’s disease. Using directed content analysis, we analyzed short descriptions of meaning in life of 126 older adults with Alzheimer’s disease, exploring whether the components (i.e., coherence, purpose, significance) and sources from the current literature could be identified and what additional themes emerged in their accounts. Replicating findings in other populations, family and relationships were the most prominent sources. Coherence and purpose were each described by 15% of participants, significance was almost not mentioned. We discuss the entanglement of components and sources in people’s descriptions and the possibility of a connection facet underlying meaning. We provide evidence for a distinction between cognitive and felt coherence and show that many participants talked about fulfilled and purpose instead of future-oriented purpose, emphasizing the need for a developmental understanding of meaning.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJOURNAL OF HAPPINESS STUDIES
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • Dementia
  • Meaningfulness
  • Nursing home
  • Old age
  • Qualitative analysis

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