The saying “Oh they have aged well”, as well as, “time did not do them good” are both phrases we have heard people use to describe those who have reached later stages in life. Statements such as these appear to be placing the older population in two categories: who has aged successfully and who has not. But what is successful aging? And who determines the definition?
Gerontologists, as well as those who work with older adults on a daily basis, do not think the answer to that is so simple. In fact, it is thought that there
are multiple different categories that can be considered when discussing this topic, and there is no answer set in stone.
One lens that professionals may look through in the attempt to create a definition is from a medical perspective. Biomedical theories that attempt to define successful aging are formed with the idea of life expectancy and other components that make it up. They can tend to focus on:
- The absence of chronic diseases and their risk factors
- Good health
- High levels of independent physical functioning
- Cognitive functioning
- Active engagement in life
However, the physicality of a person can not be the sole factor when determining if they have experienced successful aging, mainly due to the small number of people who would meet all of the criteria, despite how they may feel/view themselves.
Biomedical successful aging is a distinctly different concept than psychosocial successful aging. The psychosocial perspective emphasizes more on life satisfaction, social participation, and personal concepts (such as personal growth). Some of the criteria when considering successful aging from a psychosocial viewpoint includes:
- Having a positive outlook
- Having a sense of self-worth
- Sense of control over life
- Effective adapting and coping strategies
These two perspectives do not even contain all of the components that one could possibly consider when defining successful aging. For example, these ideas can also be factored in the thought process:
Enjoyment of diet
Productivity and contribution to life
Sense of humor
Sense of purpose
*The ideas on this list were pulled from a list created by professor of health services research Ann Bowling, and Paul Dieppe
For a person to meet all of the possible criteria that have been listed above is impossible and it is unrealistic to expect one to meet so many of these in order to have “successfully aged”. The idea of successful aging implies that there is also failure, which is an unhealthy mindset for our society to have, especially when considering that in day-to-day references, the term is normally applied to appearances. Instead, we should broaden the viewpoint of what is considered successful and while doing so, give more power to older adults as to how they can view themselves. Next time you are looking back at your life, don’t focus just on how your looks have changed over the years, or how your health has become. In addition to these, consider the lessons you have learned in your life, what memories have brought you joy, and what has made you smile this week. You may realize you have succeeded more than you thought you have.
If you would like to learn more about the theories and ideas about successful aging and the components that make it up, more information can be found out at: What Is Succesful Aging and Who Should Define It?
Defining Successful Aging: A Tangible or Elusive Concept?
All of the ideas that are mentioned in the post above have come from the two gerontology journal articles listed.