Good News: Older Adults Today Have Better Mental Health Than 30 Years Ago

Happy Old Woman on Phone

A study by the University of Jyväskylä revealed that contemporary 75- and 80-year-olds report fewer depressive symptoms and higher life satisfaction compared to peers from the 1990s, thanks largely to better health and higher education.

A recent study undertaken at the Gerontology Research Center within the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, revealed that the mental well-being of the elderly has improved compared to 30 years prior. The research compared the depressive symptoms and overall life satisfaction of 75- and 80-year-olds today to those of the same age groups in the 1990s.

The findings highlighted that today’s 75- and 80-year-olds, both men and women, have fewer depressive symptoms than their counterparts from the 1990s. This improvement was partly attributed to the superior perceived health status and higher education levels of the more recently born cohorts.

“In our previous comparisons, we found that older people today have significantly better physical and cognitive functioning at the same age compared to those born earlier,” says Professor Taina Rantanen from the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences. “These new results complement these positive findings in terms of mental well-being.”

Today, 75- and 80-year-olds are more satisfied with their lives to date. However, there was no similar difference in satisfaction with their current lives. In fact, 80-year-old men who lived in the 1990s were even more satisfied with their current lives than 80-year-old men today.

“These men born in 1910 had lived through difficult times, which may explain their satisfaction with their current lives in the 1990s when many things were better than before,” says postdoctoral researcher Tiia Kekäläinen.

“Individuals adapt to their situation and living conditions. Both in the 1990s and today, the majority of older adults reported being satisfied with their current lives.”

Reference: “Cohort Differences in Depressive Symptoms and Life Satisfaction in 75- and 80-Year-Olds: A Comparison of Two Cohorts 28 Years Apart” by Tiia Kekäläinen, Kaisa Koivunen, Katja Pynnönen, Erja Portegijs, and Taina Rantanen, 22 March 2023, Journal of Aging and Health.
DOI: 10.1177/08982643231164739

The study was conducted at the Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences and Gerontology Research Center at University of Jyväskylä, Finland. The first cohort consisted of 617 individuals born in 1910 and 1914 who participated in the Evergreen study in 1989–1990. The second cohort consisted of 794 individuals born in 1938–1939 and 1942–1943 who participated in the AGNES study in 2017–2018. In both cohorts, the participants were assessed at the age of 75 or 80 years. The study was funded by the Academy of Finland and the European Research Council.

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