‘I’m a fighter and I do not give up’: – Socially isolated older adults’ experiences with meaning in life.

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Positively experienced relationships with family, partners and friends are the most important source of meaning in life for older persons. At the same time, Western countries are confronted with a growing number of socially isolated older adults who lack those relationships. This study aims to explore whether and how older adults who live in social isolation experience meaning in life. Data were collected via in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 24 socially isolated older adults, ranging in age from 62 to 94, all living in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. The criterion-based sampling of participants took place in close consultation with social workers of a mentoring project for socially isolated older adults. Follow-up interviews with 22 participants improved the credibility of findings and contributed to the breadth and depth of the researched casuistry. Data were analysed using an analytical framework based on seven needs of meaning identified by Baumeister (purpose, values, efficacy, self-worth) and Derkx (coherence, excitement, connectedness). The study demonstrates that isolated older adults may find anchors for meaning in life, although not all needs for meaning are satisfied, and there can also be tension between different needs. The needs-based model provides concrete distinctions for enabling care-givers to recognise elements of meaning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalAgeing and Society
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2024


  • Social isolation
  • Loneliness
  • Meaning in life
  • Purpose
  • Values
  • self-worth
  • connectedness

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