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Oct 28, 2021

Most studies in geriatrics have used metrics such as survival time or disability in activities of daily living as their outcome measure.  Many palliative care interventions are evaluated on the basis of ability to change symptoms such as pain.  But these outcomes represent a thin view of the human experience.  What older adults and those with serious illness often care about most is being able to do the activities that animate their lives with meaning and purpose.  Participating in meaningful activities is central to quality of life, and yet is poorly captured in most outcome scales.

In this week’s podcast, Ken Covinsky joins Eric Widera and I to talk with Anna Oh and Theresa Allison, two researchers who have taken very different approaches to studying meaningful activities.  Anna conducted a quantitative study, getting a 30,000 foot view of older adults with dementia, disability, and depression’s ability to participate in meaningful activities.  Most people think that a good quality of life isn’t possible for people with these conditions. Anna’s study, published in JAMA IM, finds that most older adults with these conditions are still engaging in meaningful activities.

Theresa’s qualitative study, published in JAMDA, delves deep into the lived experience of older adults with dementia and their caregivers. She finds that while they have had to adapt to support participation in meaningful activities, the underlying sources of meaning have remained the same.  Interestingly, caregiver stress was higher when the people with dementia they cared for stopped participating in meaningful activities.  Helping people with dementia and caregivers adapt to continue to engage in meaningful activities is a creative activity that is at the heart of good geriatric and palliative care.