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At the Edge of Existence: Unravelling the associations between existential distress and geriatric depression in nursing home residents

Scientific studies show alarmingly high levels of depressive symptomatology in nursing home (NH) residents, a rapidly increasing group in our society. Simultaneously, NH-professionals report existential needs and existential distress of their residents. Understanding existential distress has increasingly become a focus of study in cancer care and palliative medicine, but is hardly studied in the NH-context. This is remarkable since the NH context of loss, disease, and decreasing autonomy might easily trigger existential distress. Furthermore, despite the similarities between depressive symptoms and existential distress (like meaninglessness and existential loneliness), and despite the overlap in items to measure geriatric depression and existential distress, virtually no knowledge is available on how geriatric depressive symptoms and existential concerns are influencing each other. This project, therefore, clarifies the relationship between geriatric depressive symptoms and existential distress, and does this both from the perspective of the NHRs and of the NH-professional.

  • The project is only available in Fall 2024.
  • Number of placements available: 2 per semester.


  • Sincere interest in psychogerontology / geriatrics/existential topics;
  • Familiarity with statistical software packages (SPSS, R, …);
  • Openness for qualitative methodology;
  • Team player.

Faculty Department

Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences / Department Meaning and Existence

Meaning & Existence is a collaboration between researchers of the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences that focuses on the existential layer of human life. It aims to gain and deepen our insight in how people cope with their ultimate concerns, how they try to find meaning in life, and how existential challenges influence their psychological and physical health and well-being. Based on research, Meaning & Existence creates a vision on health care that includes the existential aspects of life and strives to develop concrete meaning-focused applications and existential therapeutic interventions.

Meaning Research Late Life Lab is part of M&E and focuses on late life and frail older adults. Their research is situated on the nexus of psychogerontology, existential psychology and positive psychology.

Research presentation by Reanne (University of Wisconsin - Whitewater)

Learn more about Reanne's research project: Existential isolation/ loneliness and depressive feelings: A developmental perspective.

Read more about the research project

Research presentation by Isabella (University of Utah)

Learn more about Isabella's research project: Sense of Home and Nursing Home Residents

Read more about the research project