“Who would take a 90-year-old?” Community-dwelling nonagenarians’ perceptions of social relationships

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Katariina Tuominen
Jari Pirhonen


This article aims to deepen understanding of the informal social relationships of the oldest old by applying qualitative methods. It considers ideas of the fourth age, socioemotional selectivity theory, and gerotranscendence theory from the viewpoint of Finnish community-dwelling nonagenarians. Qualitative life-story interviews were analyzed using qualitative content analysis. Nonagenarians described the significance of social relationships but also social restrictions and loneliness. In addition, the interviewees described the company and help their social relationships provided, and the pleasant and unpleasant emotions they experienced in their existing and past relationships. Our findings indicate that social relationships can contribute to the ability of nonagenarians to live a good life in old age, and that nonagenarians’ successful aging is not necessarily related to voluntary disengagement from social relationships, as suggested by some theories. Rather, our findings indicate a pursuit of engagement with other people to be important for the good aging of the oldest old.


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