Although embraced as desirable by most, living into very old age is largely unexplored as a distinct season of life, with increased, varied, and cumulative changes during a unique time of vulnerability and frailty. The purpose of this study was to listen to the oldest-old, and to explore their lived experience of growing old. This hermeneutic phenomenology study examines the experience of finding meaning and living with losses and gains in advanced old age. This study design included three separate interviews one month apart with participants over 85 years of age. Purposive sampling resulted in 13 participants, 5 being male and 8 female, from 87 to 100 years of age with 8 being Caucasian, 3 Hispanic, and 2 African-American. Semi-structured interviews included topics of life history, daily habits, and experiences of loss and gain in oldest-old age. Verbatim transcriptions of recorded face-to-face interviews, field notes, and observations, were used as meaningful text and analyzed using interpretive thematic analysis methods. The lived experience of the oldest-old is that of a parallel movement of loss and gain, negative and positive with the acknowledgement that the change toward decline is inevitable. While sharing common experiences, each individual is situated in a particular lifeworld that offers possibilities and constraints for their unique way of being in the world. Learning new ways of being and doing, changes of the “I am” and “I am not” and the “I can” and “I cannot,” all point to ways of adapting and coping with the challenges that old age has wrought on bodies, minds, abilities, and life circumstances. Through the balancing of these dual courses, the metaphor of the careful walk across the tightrope is reflective of this experience. It is the attitude, inner negotiations, will-power, and habits of positivity and gratitude, that prevent the I cannots and the I am nots from leading to depression or despair. Recognizing oldest-old age as a distinct time of life is imperative. As such, nursing and helping professionals can offer support and care in more empathic and meaningful ways to address needs of unique possibilities and meaning for the oldest-old.

LLU Discipline





School of Nursing

First Advisor

Winslow, Betty W.

Second Advisor

Jones, Patricia S.

Third Advisor

Kanacki, Lana M.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Level


Year Degree Awarded


Date (Title Page)




Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings

Aging - psychology; Adaptation; Psychological; Attitude to Health; Attitude to Death; Life Change Events; Hermeneutics; Personal Narratives

Subject - Local

Oldest-old; Hermeneutic phenomenology; Lifeworld



Page Count


Digital Format


Digital Publisher

Loma Linda University Libraries

Usage Rights

This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.


Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Collection Website



Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives