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Purpose after Retirement during COVID-19: Trying to Find Direction in Retirement Communities

Published:April 22, 2020DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jagp.2020.04.019
      The COVID-19 pandemic has limited how we engage with daily activities, given the need to reduce the outbreak by working-at-home, physical distancing, and sheltering-in-place. These limitations have a direct impact on our ability to enact purposeful activities, and without this life engagement, to feel a sense of direction to our lives.
      • Scheier MF
      • Wrosch C
      • Baum A
      • et al.
      The life engagement test: assessing purpose in life.
      Given the focus on how COVID-19 is impacting work, often missing is discussion on how the pandemic is influencing retirees, and their ability to remain purposeful. This omission is problematic given that sense of purpose predicts reduced risk for disability among retirement community members,
      • Boyle PA
      • Buchman AS
      • Bennett DA
      Purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk of incident disability among community-dwelling older persons.
      and retired adults may experience greater susceptibility to declining sense of purpose even under normal circumstances.
      • Hill PL
      • Weston SJ
      Evaluating eight-year trajectories for sense of purpose in the health and retirement study.
      The current pandemic further exacerbates this risk for decline, given the lockdowns at several retirement facilities, limiting family visits, and social activities.
      Supports thus are needed to help retirement community members feel a sense of purpose. Given this challenge, we suggest three potential routes to scaffold members’ sense of purpose. Though these recommendations are rooted in past research, we must acknowledge the obvious difficulty with providing suggestions in a public health crisis largely unexamined in psychological research. However, recognizing these routes may assist retirement communities in this time of need.
      The first reflects a more widespread movement, namely the need for technology to maintain social connections, given links between social support and sense of purpose.
      • Scheier MF
      • Wrosch C
      • Baum A
      • et al.
      The life engagement test: assessing purpose in life.
      The retirement community though presents unique challenges. The ability to assist members may be limited due to personnel having to attend to other aspects of the community lockdown. In addition, several communities may be ill-equipped to allow members access to online resources simultaneously. Therefore, it may prove valuable to create schedules that allow members to plan their days around meeting with family and friends.
      Second, there is a need to maintain community connections within distancing guidelines. In interviews with retirement community members, we found that several interviewees were driven by activities that impacted and helped other members.
      • Lewis NA
      • Reesor N
      • Hill PL
      Perceived barriers and contributors to sense of purpose in life in retirement community residents.
      Clearly physical distancing guidelines are important, particularly in a population more susceptible to the ill-effects of COVID-19. However, retirement communities may infuse community engagement through joint activities between members in their individual living spaces. It also may be important to encourage correspondence between members, written or electronic. Any efforts to help individuals feel connected may go a long way towards maintaining purposefulness.
      Third, people are quick to emphasize how the current crisis is heretofore unseen. However, with older adults, it may be important to underscore the past challenges that this generation has overcome. Reflection upon major life events appears one route to finding or reengaging with one's purpose.
      • Hill PL
      • Sumner R
      • Burrow AL
      Understanding the pathways to purpose: examining personality and well-being correlates across adulthood.
      As such, retirement communities can ask members to revisit past life challenges and identify how they navigated those obstacles. An added benefit is that community members’ reflections may inform people outside the community on how to deal with the crisis. Indeed, perhaps the best way to help retirement community members feel purposeful is to let them help us to do the same.

      AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS

      Patrick Hill was primarily responsible for the initial idea generation and drafting the manuscript. Nathan Lewis and Anthony Burrow discussed the manuscript with Patrick Hill throughout the process, and they provided critical feedback at multiple stages. All authors approved the manuscript.

      Disclosure

      Patrick Hill, Nathan Lewis, and Anthony Burrow have no conflicts of interest to disclose regarding the manuscript.
      Patrick Hill, Nathan Lewis and Anthony Burrow have no funding to declare with respect to this manuscript.

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        The life engagement test: assessing purpose in life.
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        Perceived barriers and contributors to sense of purpose in life in retirement community residents.
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