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Seniors in search of a 're-do': Survey finds older Americans wish they could change some things
Senior Couple
A survey of older adults found they have some regrets. - photo by Metro Creative Graphics

A USA Today survey of older adults found they have some regrets, but believe younger adults can learn from what they didn't do exactly right.

Writes Sharon Jayson, "When asked about a preselected list of steps they wish they had taken 'to plan and prepare for your senior years,' the most-cited responses illustrate just how regret also plays a role in getting older. Among them are saving more money and making better investments, taking better care of health and staying closer with family. Of the respondents, 18 percent said 'none of the above.'"

The survey was sponsored by USA Today, National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, National Council on Aging and UnitedHealthcare. It included two groups: 1,000 adults ages 60 and older, and a slightly larger group ages 18-59.

"When we get older, people do a life review," Louis Primavera, a psychologist at Touro College, told Jayson. "They begin to think 'I shoulda done this or saved more money or spent more time with the kids.' At some point, you get to the realization that we're not going to live forever."

Besides the regret portion, the survey showed more older Americans are exercising and setting health goals, according to an NCOA release. Those who are working on improving their health also reported greater optimism about their ability to stay healthy. The survey showed more "financial confidence," while the top worry was losing memory and independence, it said.

Researchers have also tackled regret. In "Regret and Successful Aging Among the Old-old," Brooke Funderburk wrote extensively about the things that elders would have changed, citing studies and surveys that focused on the regrets concerning family, parenting, romance, careers and other life domains. One life-revision study cited showed that elders "would spend at least 50 percent more time in education, family activities, career, developing their mind, traveling, exercising and taking care of their bodies," Funderburk wrote.

Regrets can occur at all stages of life. According to the Saybrook University Forum, "A study in the recent issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that about 90 percent of adults have deep regrets about their lives, and that the more they dwell on it the worse their quality of life tends to get. If we all have big regrets — and it looks like we virtually all do — then managing regret is a crucial life skill."

The article highlighted research that found "people also self-regulated to ease the pain of regret by re-engaging with lost opportunities." They did it by "looking at others in their lives that managed to accomplish their goals."

Carsten Wrosch, one of the researchers on that study and a psychology professor at Concordia University in Montreal, told Jayson life regrets focus on work, education and relationships. Jayson wrote, "What's really surprising, he says, is that most regrets were from decades past, often occurring when people were in their 30s and 40s."

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