An examination of the relationships between activity participation, social relations, and meaning in life among older adults in Aotearoa New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand

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Previous research suggests that a sense of meaning in life (MIL) contributes to physical and psychological well-being among older adults. Given the positive outcomes associated with MIL, it is important to identify sources of MIL and understand how MIL arises among older adults. The increasing proportions of older adults engaging in employment, volunteering, and informal caregiving suggests that it may be important to consider the influence of these activities on MIL. Furthermore, while there is evidence that receiving social support enhances MIL, there does not appear to be any research on the effects of providing social support on an individual’s sense of MIL. This research examines relationships between health, MIL, and volunteering, employment, and informal caregiving, and the role of social support in these relationships among a sample of older adults in Aotearoa New Zealand. In addition, this research aims to examine how different aspects of caregiving relate to MIL among older adults who are informal caregivers. This research was secondary data analysis of a large sample of community-dwelling older adults in Aotearoa New Zealand. Relationships were examined using standard quantitative statistical procedures with linear hierarchical regression being the primary technique. MIL was found to be associated with psychological but not physical health with the exception of older adult informal caregivers for whom MIL was associated with both dimensions of health. Consistent with previous research, volunteering was associated with higher MIL among older adults and this relationship was mediated by the provision of social support. Results also indicated that informal caregiving may enhance MIL indirectly through the provision of social support. However, no evidence was found that participation in paid employment is associated with either higher or lower MIL. Among informal caregivers, perceived social support was the only aspect of caregiving which remained a significant predictor of MIL after controlling for demographic and health variables. The research suggests MIL is an important resource for the psychological health of older adults, supporting the incorporation of MIL into psychological interventions for this population. Volunteering and other roles which present opportunities to provide support for others may be particularly effective for enhancing MIL. Further research is needed to investigate how different aspects of employment relate to MIL in order to better understand how employment may be structured to contribute to MIL. Considering the socio-historical context in which older adulthood is lived out, the research contributes to the growing body of literature on MIL, providing insight into how MIL might be promoted among older adults.
Older people, New Zealand, Psychology, Conduct of life, Social networks, Employment, Psychological aspects, Volunteers, Caregivers