The Aging Paradox: A Look at Later-Life Satisfaction Through the Eyes of OLLI Members

Olli members

Clockwise from top left, OLLI members Mary Doller, Al May, Jean Hunt and Steve Vorenberg.

By Caitlin Connelly

A good paradox can turn the obvious on its head.

That’s a fair way to describe the aging paradox, a concept well-known to gerontologists that challenges presumptions about the way people feel as they grow older. True, there may be many forms of loss or limitation that come with older age. But there is also empirical evidence that shows people actually experience a greater level of life satisfaction as they grow older.

In the process of living to an older age, transitions often become more than a simple shift from work to retirement and bring people to a more peaceful frame of mind, according to Kathrin Boerner, an associate professor of gerontology at UMass Boston.

“Older adults often arrive at this point where they feel like they’ve experienced a lot but they’ve also learned a lot from the experience,” said Boerner.

Those transitions can be driven by conventional forces of work and family. But the kind of older-life satisfaction described by the aging paradox is often rooted other kinds of experiences. “People get to that point from very different trajectories,” said Boerner.

The Gerontology Institute Blog asked members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston to describe their transition into the earlier stages of older life and how they felt about it. Their responses illustrate just how different those trajectories can be. Continue reading