Category: Maximizing Quality of Life

17 - Preparing Ourselves: Learning about Living Long Through the Lived Experiences of the Oldest-Old

Preparing Ourselves: Learning about Living Long Through the Lived Experiences of the Oldest-Old


Although embraced as desirable by most, living into very old age is largely unexplored as a distinct season of life, with increased, varied, and cumulative changes during a time of vulnerability and frailty. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to listen to the oldest-old, and to explore their lived experience of growing very old.  An additional aim is to pass on what is learned about living long from those living it, that can prepare younger generations for the possibility of living well into these very late years of life.

This study design included three separate interviews one month apart with participants over 85 years of age.  Purposive sampling resulted in 13 participates, 5 being male and 8 female, whose ages ranged from 87 to 100.  Eight participants were Caucasian, 3 were Hispanic, and 2 were African-American. Semi-structured face-to-face interviews included topics of life history, daily life habits, and experiences of loss and gain in oldest-old age.  Experiential narrative text was gathered. Questions asked included “What can you tell me about what it is like for you to be ___?”, “What has brought you satisfaction or happiness at this time of life?” Verbatim transcriptions of recorded interviews, field notes, and observations, were analyzed using interpretive thematic analysis methods.

Findings reveal both habits and attitudes of thinking, behaving, and feeling that are both unique to the individual and shared in common with other oldest-old persons. These ways of living have been cultivated over a lifetime that has known many instances of pain, loss, and suffering.  “I like thinking of good things”; “There is not profit in it [dwelling on the negative]”; “Just go with the flow”; and “It’s a thing of learning” are examples of expressed ways of thinking and responding to the changing “I can” and “I cannots” of aging in these very late years of life as the body disappoints and demands much.

This study offers a portrayal of possibilities of learning from our oldest old that can assist younger generations in preparing for the challenges inherent in living very long lives. This understudied time of very late life has rich potential to inform and enrich gerontological theory and nursing knowledge in developing practices that promote meaning, purpose, and dignity in these late years.


Julia A. Pusztai

Assistant Professor of Nursing
Seattle Pacific University
Edmonds, Washington

Julie Pusztai is an Assistant Professor of Nursing at Seattle Pacific University. She is teaching Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing, Health Promotion, and a University Colloquium course on Aging & Ageism. Julie received her doctorate in nursing from Loma Linda University in California. She has presented her qualitative research on the lived experiences of the oldest old through podium and poster presentations at the 2016 Qualitative Health Research Conference, and numerous Western Institute of Nursing (WIN) conferences.