Decline in Life Satisfaction in Old Age: Longitudinal Evidence for Links to Distance-to-Death

Denis Gerstorf, Nilam Ram, Christina Röcke, Ulman Lindenberger, Jacqui Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations


Using 12-year longitudinal data from deceased participants of the Berlin Aging Study (N = 414; age 70-103 years, at first occasion; M = 87 years, SD = 8.13), the authors examined whether and how old and very old individuals exhibit terminal decline in reported life satisfaction at the end of life. Relative to age-related decline, mortality-related decline (i.e., distance-to-death) accounted for more variance in interindividual differences in life satisfaction change and revealed steeper average rates of decline, by a factor of 2. By applying change-point growth models, the authors identified a point, about 4 years before death, at which decline showed a two-fold increase in steepness relative to the preterminal phase. For the oldest old (85+ years), a threefold increase was observed. Established mortality predictors, including sex, comorbidities, dementia, and cognition, accounted for only small portions of interindividual differences in mortality-related change in life satisfaction. The authors conclude that late-life changes in subjective well-being are related to mechanisms predicting death and suggest routes for further inquiry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)154-168
Number of pages15
JournalPsychology and aging
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Aging
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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