A recent study published in June 2017 by BMC Geriatrics has shown that there is a strong correlation between subjective well-being (SWB) and overall senior health. The specific area of investigation for this study was to determine what kinds of risk were associated with low SWB among men and women aged 65 and above. Over 3,600 participants were involved in the study, and the framework used to evaluate SWB was the WHO-5 Well-being Index, which is the most definitive method currently in use for gauging subjective well-being.
Three kinds of well-being
Scientists consider that there are three distinct types of well-being: that which relates to overall life satisfaction, the sense of purpose in life, and the type which evokes feelings such as happiness, sadness, pain, anger, and stress. These three components of well-being are thought to be affected by age and by an individual’s life circumstances, often with an equivalence between maximum life distress and minimum sense of well-being. There are a number of factors which affect SWB, although they appear to affect the sexes differently.
Here are some of the most prevalent risk factors associated with well-being in seniors:
- risk of mortality
- social relationships, social status, and economic status
- poor physical health and/or poor mental health
- anxiety, depression, sources of distress, and difficulty sleeping
The WHO-5 Well-being Index
Initiated in 1998, the WHO-5 Index has since become the de facto standard for measuring subjective well-being among individuals, and has been deemed the most accurate indicator of its kind. The actual test is comprised of five positively phrased questions, which aim at revealing the participant’s frame of mind over a very recent period in their lives, generally within the previous two-week period:
- Over the past 2 weeks, I have felt cheerful and in good spirits
- Over the past 2 weeks, I have felt calm and relaxed
- Over the past 2 weeks, I have felt active and vigorous
- Over the past 2 weeks, I woke up feeling fresh and relaxed
- Over the past 2 weeks, my daily life has been filled with things that interest me.
Participants are asked to gauge the appropriateness of each of these phrases on a scale of 0 to 5, which numbers correspond to ‘none of the time’ and ‘all of the time’, with the other numbers representing intermediate levels of relevance to the person being tested. The results from these questionnaires were then translated into scores from 0 to 100, with the following interpretations:
- 0 – 25 represents low SWB
- 26 – 50 represents fair SWB
- 51 – 75 represents good SWB
- 76 – 100 represents very good SWB.
Results of the testing
When results were tabulated, it was found that at the broadest level, 79% of all participants were in the category from 51% to 100%, meaning their subject well-being ranged from good to very good. By contrast, only 21% fell into the 0 to 50% category, representing low to fair well-being. These statistics by themselves however, were not really the information that was being targeted by the study, so additional breakdowns in the statistics were related to various risk factors which affected SWB.
For both genders, the following criteria were related to SWB:
- low education
- low income
- living alone
- smoking of some kind
- physical activity level
- physical health
- sleeping problems
Comparing men with higher SWB to males with lower SWB, a pattern emerged that those with lower SWB were generally less well educated, had lower incomes, experienced more major health issues, were less physically active, and had a greater frequency of depression, anxiety, sleeping difficulties, and stress. There seemed to be very little correlation between low SWB and living alone or smoking among males.
Results were similar among women, with a few notable exceptions. Women with low SWB compared to women with high SWB were found to be living alone, have lower income, had more major health issues, were physically inactive, and had a greater frequency of anxiety, depression, stress, or sleeping difficulties. No significant associations were evident between low SWB and smoking behavior or education level.
From the results obtained in this broad study, it is possible to conclude that for the most part, both senior men and senior women experience lower subjective well-being when they have lower incomes, are physically less active, or have at least one major health issue which threatens their lives. Also, emotional well-being was found to be significantly influenced by the chronic presence of stress, depression, or lack of sleep.
Given the broad scope of the study conducted above, it seems clear that there is a powerful association between positive mental outlook and overall health in men and women above the age of 65. The study makes it clear that there are other life circumstances which can also be influential for seniors, but being cheerful, calm, relaxed, active, and vigorous, can make all the difference in general well-being.