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Humanism, aging well, and social relatedness


Humanism and Philosophy

You can also have a look on the Dutch website.


Prof Anja Machielse, Professor of Empowerment of Vulnerable Older Adults

Short introduction into the research field

As life expectancy in Western societies is still increasing, the growing number and proportion of ‘elderly’ persons raise urgent questions on how to age ‘well’.  In the research of Anja Machielse, the focus lies on the relationship between social connectedness, meaning-in-life, and resilience. It is assumed that positive personal attachments contribute substantially to the capacity of making sense of one’s life. In turn, the experience of a meaningful life enhances people’s resilience and protects them against the damaging effects of major life changes, which tend to occur more often as people age (e.g. physical/mental deterioration, the loss of significant others, the loss of societal functions, feelings of finality). 

Possible questions are:

  • How do older adults cope with losses of significant others and social impoverishment, and how do these experiences influence their experience of a meaningful life?
  • How do older adults experience feelings of redundancy, social abandonment and social exclusion, and how do these feelings influence their experience of a meaningful life? 
  • What are community-building practices that stimulate social quality in neighbourhoods or residential facilities for older adults, and how can they be supported and enhanced?
  • How can society be opened up to vulnerable older adults and make social inclusion and full citizenship possible for them? 

Example of PhD research

At home with meaning

With this PhD-project Susan Hupkens aims to acquire knowledge about meaning in life of older adults who receive health care. A practical aim is to improve the knowledge, attitudes and skills of homecare nurses to attune their care to older person’s meaning in life. This research is conducted in cooperation with Laurens Thuiszorg, a care provider in Rotterdam. Spiritual counsellors of Laurens Thuiszorg are introduced in homecare teams to coach homecare nurses to improve their competencies to be able to attune to meaning in life of old patients. The aimed result of the coaching is that homecare nurses will be more capable, more at home, with attuning to meaning in life of older persons. 

The research is performed according to the Perceived Benefit Approach, an appropriate approach for research questions on complex problems for which are no easy solutions. Multiple qualitative methods are uses to answer the research questions: participatory observations (daily work of homecare nurses, coaching sessions of nurses and spiritual counselors); interviews with homecare nurses and their clients; focusgroups with homecare nurses, clients and spiritual counsellors; and surveys (evaluation forms for homecare nurses after the coaching period). 

Supervised by professor Anja Machielse.