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The “3 As” & Older Adults’ Mental Health & WellBeing

Developed in spring 2021, this study investigates the extent to which older adults’ universal psychological drivers of autonomy, affiliation, and achievement (the 3 As) were being met during the COVID-19 pandemic. The research brief explores whether there was a relationship between these needs and mental health, and between these three needs and wellness. Findings reveal that the 3 As are associated with important mental health and wellness outcomes.


In addition to uncovering relationships between the 3 As and mental health, the study also revealed relationships with various dimensions of wellness, including emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual, physical, and vocational wellness. This analysis controlled for effects of gender, race, income, and education.

• Greater autonomy was associated with higher levels of emotional, social, spiritual, and physical wellness. Greater autonomy was most strongly associated with greater emotional wellness.

• Greater achievement was associated with higher levels of vocational, emotional, intellectual, and physical wellness. It is most strongly associated with intellectual wellness, followed by emotional, vocational, and physical wellness, respectively.

Greater affiliation was associated with higher levels of intellectual and social wellness and was most strongly associated with social wellness.


  • the relationship between the 3 As and mental health, including COVID-19-related mental health concerns

  • the associations between the 3 As and emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual, physical, and vocational wellness

  • strategies for supporting the mental health of older adults by increasing their feelings of autonomy, achievement, and affiliation.


Considering the relationships between the 3 As and mental health and wellness, it is worthwhile to consider ways people might increase their feelings of autonomy, achievement, and affiliation. following are simple strategies individuals may utilize to this end:

  • Develop new skills and knowledge in wellness-related areas that you choose and that interest you, whether they be cooking classes, tennis lessons, meditation sessions, or something else. You’re more likely to succeed at completing tasks that you enjoy and choose for yourself.

  • Increase your sense of achievement by setting specific, realistic wellness goals and tracking your progress toward those goals. If your goal is to walk more, for instance, build your endurance by first walking shorter, more manageable distances before challenging yourself to walk farther.

  • Evaluate whether you have people in your life who are supportive of your health and wellness goals and seek social support (affiliation) as needed. Merely relying on others for support can increase your interactions with others, which in turn boosts your social and intellectual wellness. If you feel you lack supportive people in your life, consider how you might create healthy social connections. This may be done in person through community centers, religious organizations, or social clubs or groups. Some people also find valuable social connections online; for example, by reconnecting with contacts they know on Facebook or by finding online social support groups.

Those in senior living communities and aging services can also support well-being among older adults by promoting the 3 As:
  • To promote autonomy, design programs to maximize participant choice, including offering different types of programs at a variety of times. In addition, enable older adults to engage with the program in different ways and invite participants to establish their own goals or intentions.

  • To support achievement, develop programs that allow opportunity for mastery, not just participation. For example, try to incorporate ways for participants to gain a certain set of skills. In addition, ensure that different learning styles are considered so that all participants are able to succeed in achieving the desired outcomes.

  • To enhance affiliation, offer opportunities for older adults to engage with others and form social connections. In doing so, it’s important to ensure that the physical space is conducive to conversation.


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