European Journal of Ageing

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 293–300 | Cite as

Predicting one’s own death: the relationship between subjective and objective nearness to death in very old age

  • Dana Kotter-GrühnEmail author
  • Daniel Grühn
  • Jacqui Smith
Original Investigation


Previous research found that the perception of a limited remaining lifetime is related to goal setting, social network composition, attitudes, and behavior. However, to better understand those findings, it is important to know if this subjective perception of being close to death corresponds with the time a person actually survives. The aim of the present study was to examine the predictive and time–dynamic relationship between subjective and objective nearness to death using 16-year longitudinal data from the Berlin Aging Study (Baltes and Mayer 1999; N = 516 older adults between 70 and 104 years). Older adults who felt close to death at the first measurement occasion were more likely to die over the following 16 years than persons who did not report feeling close to dying. Results of multilevel analyses revealed that there was a time–dynamic relationship such that subjective nearness to death increased as a function of objective nearness to death. Our results indicate that very old adults seem to have quite accurate perceptions of their nearness to death.


Subjective nearness to death Future time perspective Berlin aging study Mortality 



This article reports data from the Berlin Aging Study (BASE; BASE was initiated by the late Paul B. Baltes, in collaboration with Hanfried Helmchen, Psychiatry, Elisabeth Steinhagen-Thiessen, Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, and Karl Ulrich Mayer, Sociology. Financial support came from the Max Planck Society, the Free University of Berlin, the German Federal Ministry for Research and Technology (1989–1991, 13 TA 011 + 13 TA 011/A), the German Federal Ministry for Family, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth (1992–1998, 314-1722-102/9 + 314-1722-102/9a), and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences’ Research Group on Aging and Societal Development (1994–1999). During preparation of this article, Dana Kotter-Grühn was supported by a research fellowship (KO 3579/3-1) awarded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft/German Research Foundation (DFG). We thank the anonymous reviewers for very useful comments on a previous draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dana Kotter-Grühn
    • 1
    Email author
  • Daniel Grühn
    • 1
  • Jacqui Smith
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and Institute for Social ResearchUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA 
  3. 3.Center for Lifespan PsychologyMax Planck Institute for Human DevelopmentBerlinGermany

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