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"None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm."

—Henry David Thoreau


By the end of this chapter, readers will be able to:

  1. Discuss the role of occupation in the lives of older adults.

  2. Discuss theories regarding occupation and well-being.

  3. Discuss the ways in which elders engage in various types of activities.

  4. Discuss the ways in which occupation in later life affects subjective well-being, self-efficacy, and life satisfaction.

  5. Describe the interrelationship between occupation and health and between poor health and loss of meaningful occupations.

  6. Describe the role of physical capacity in promoting occupational engagement and well-being.

  7. Describe strategies for assessing occupations and their meanings for elders.

  8. Discuss the evidence regarding outcomes of occupational and physical therapy designed to encourage and support meaningful occupations.

Clinical Vignette

Claudette Odon is a 76-year-old African American woman who resides in a large West Coast city where she has lived her entire life. She is widowed, having lost her husband 6 years ago after 40 years of a marriage she describes as happy. She has two adult daughters who live in the same city, and six grandchildren, most of whom are currently at universities around the United States. She had a son, but he was killed in a drive-by shooting when he was 16.

Ms. Odon worked for many years in a nonprofit organization that promoted the arts, especially theatre, in her city, retiring 3 years ago. She continues to be very involved in the arts community, serving on the boards of several organizations and attending frequent performances. She has a large circle of friends, mostly related to the arts, and she also is very involved in her Baptist church.

Ms. Odon reports having arthritis that interferes with her ability to move comfortably. The discomfort has led her to give up gardening, and she reports having difficulty preparing her meals because standing is uncomfortable as well.

  1. Do you think that Ms. Odon has a satisfying occupational profile? What occupations do you think might be missing from her life?

  2. How might the loss of her son and her husband affect her satisfaction with her current occupations?

  3. Which of her occupations might be a focus of attention for a physical therapist? An occupational therapist?

  4. What kinds of typical events in the future might affect Ms. Odon's ability to participate in occupations she values?

Later life is characterize by significant change—change in physical capacity, change in roles, change in family constellations, change in living arrangements. All these changes can present daunting challenges in the absence of a sense of purpose and meaning. Occupational and physical therapy have important contributions to helping elders find purpose and thereby enhance quality of life. This chapter considers the ways in which older adults construct meaningful lives, the centrality of occupations to life, and strategies that occupational and physical therapists can employ to help elders find ...

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