Older persons' experiences of what influences their vitality – a study of 65‐ and 75‐year‐olds in Finland and Sweden

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Throughout the world, life expectancy has noticeably improved, and during the past century, and a half average life expectancy in many industrial countries has increased from just below 50 years in 1861 to about 80 years today 1. As life expectancy increases, societies can expect a simultaneous increase in the need for care facilities, and health promotive and disease preventive initiatives for older persons will become ever more important. In health science research, interest in human beings' source of health has recently increased markedly, largely because of Antonovsky's salutogenic research on human beings' health resources and what might positively influence health, wellness and sense of coherence 2. Recent research has shown that a person's attitude towards life (life orientation), such as positive thinking or positive disposition in relation to crises and life in general, positively effects his/her adaptability, achievements, recovery and need for care 4.
Vitality is considered the essence of health and can be described using the concepts ‘life energy’, ‘inner strength’ and ‘inner health resource’ 7. In care, it is possible to meet older persons with positive approaches to life: persons who because of their vitality defy adversity and have the strength to continue living, despite illness and suffering 9. However, it is also possible to meet older persons who struggle with both vitality and adversity. It is therefore important to understand how vitality among older persons can be strengthened and supported. That which provides the strength and energy to look forward and which can positively or negatively influence older persons' vitality is a relatively unresearched domain 9. More knowledge is needed to ensure that carers are capable of strengthening older persons' experiences of health and supporting their capacities to live independent lives.
In Finland, the Finnish word sisu is used to express a fundamental, psychological competence that enables extraordinary action and empowers individuals to overcome a physically or mentally challenging situation 10. The word can be translated into English as will, determination, perseverance or rational action in the face of adversity and as such can be understood as an expression of vitality.
Expressions of vitality as a research domain were investigated in a multidisciplinary Nordic research project, the Gerontological Regional Database (GERDA) project, where the main purpose was to develop knowledge of ‘good ageing’ 11. Our aim with this actual study was to expand knowledge of older persons' vitality and their subjective experiences of what influences their vitality. One assumption is that older persons, who have a long life behind them, can possess knowledge of the importance of vitality and the central sources of vitality.
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