Health of older people tied to motivation, finds study

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Motivation science investigates what it is that people desire and dislike or even fear, how these desires, dislikes, and fears are transformed into goals, how people go about pursuing these goals successfully or disengage from them if necessary, and how these processes change over time.

"Motivation is the royal road to understanding healthy aging," said a recent supplemental issue to The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences. The supplement is comprised of nine articles addressing one or more components of a motivational model of healthy aging by reviewing the pertinent research and highlighting open research questions aiming to advance the field of motivation and healthy aging.

The supplement was funded by the Swiss foundation Velux Stiftung. In June 2018, the foundation organised the first interdisciplinary workshop in Zurich in order to shed light on the role of motivation for healthy aging and discuss how insights on motivational processes could advance healthy aging.

Two more workshops followed, which led to the development of the articles in the new supplement. Participants of the second workshop, held in December 2019, co-authored the lead article and represent the fields of psychology, neuroscience, psychiatry, gerontology, geriatrics, health design, and public health. Among them are supplement guest editors Alexandra M Freund, PhD, Marie Hennecke, PhD, Veronika Brandstatter, PhD, and Mike Martin, PhD.

"Taken together, the collection of papers in this supplement illustrates the central role of motivation for healthy aging, and the fruitfulness of the heuristic model of motivation and healthy aging for both basic and applied research," the authors wrote.

They added, "It is our hope that it inspires both strands of research and, with this, ultimately will make a contribution to addressing the question of how people can age healthily and fulfill their potential well into old and very old age."

The World Health Organization has proposed a definition of "healthy aging" that takes the specific situation of older people into account, namely as "the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age," where functional ability denotes the "attributes that enable people to be and to do what they have reason to value."

"Thus, if we want to understand 'healthy aging,' we need to understand what it is that people 'have reason to value' into very old age, and how they can attain and maintain these valued aspects of their lives," the authors of the supplement's lead article wrote.