Impairment Severity and Evaluative and Experienced Well-Being among Older Adults: Assessing the Role of Daily Activities

Physical impairments affect a substantial number of older adults in the United States, with rates increasing with advancing age. Impairment is linked with compromised well-being, although the reasons are not fully understood. We explore the extent to which linkages between impairment severity and well-being are accounted for by older adults' daily activities. We speculate that activities may influence global appraisals of well-being by offering the opportunity to fulfill productive and social roles and may influence daily emotions by shaping the context (places, people) in which life occurs.

Using data from the Disability and Use of Time supplement to the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (n = 1,606), a national sample of US adults ages 60 years and older, we examine the effects of impairment severity on life satisfaction and four diary-based experienced well-being measures (happiness, frustration, worry, and sadness). We estimate nested regression models, taking into account within-person correlations for experienced well-being.

Impairment severity is associated with poorer assessments of life satisfaction and all four dimensions of experienced well-being. Activity measures, which encompass eight productive (e.g., household chores) and three leisure (e.g., socializing) activities, account for 10% of the association between impairment and life satisfaction, and virtually none of the association between impairment and experienced well-being. However, psychosocial factors including higher neuroticism, lower self-efficacy, and poorer quality social relationships account for a sizeable share of the associations.

Role-fulfilling aspects of activities appear to be more central than contextual aspects of activities to the impairment-well-being relationship. However, potentially modifiable psychosocial factors account for a much greater share of this relationship. Further research is needed on whether interventions targeting these psychosocial factors might bolster emotional well-being for older adults experiencing impairments.