Reconsidering How Successful Aging is Defined
Perspectives from Community-Dwelling Aging Adults
Keywords:Successful aging, ageism, self-determination, health, well-being
Successful aging is a prominent framework within gerontology, yet an understanding of how aging adults define “successful aging” is often missing in the social work discourse around what it means to age well. This cross-sectional, exploratory study used an online survey to explore community-dwelling adults’ (aged 55+; n=471) definition of successful aging, the underlying components across all definitions, and any differences in components based on whether or not the adults identified as aging successfully. Summative content analysis yielded five main themes and 13 sub-themes for those who identified as aging successfully and five main themes and 11-sub-themes for those who identified as not aging successfully with elements of health constituting the largest percentage of responses across both groups. Bivariate analyses found participants in the “not aging successfully” group mentioned elements of Being Healthy and Financial Security more than those in the aging successfully group, and elements of Sustain Participation, Curiosity, and Learning less than those in the “aging successfully” group. The findings illustrate the extent to which aging adults view successful aging as the presence of health and ability. Social workers should be mindful to the ways in which adults view successful aging and the elements they believe to contribute to successful aging in order to provide and tailor programs, services, and resources that are supportive of aging adults’ needs and wishes.
Bowling, A., & Dieppe, P. (2005). What is successful ageing and who should define it? British Medical Journal, 331(7531), 1548-1551. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7531.1548
Calasanti, T. (2003). Theorizing age relations. In S. Biggs, A. Lowenstein, & J. Hendricks (Eds.), The need for theory: Critical approaches to social gerontology for the 21st century (pp. 199-218). Baywood.
Carver, L. F., & Buchanan, D. (2016). Successful aging: Considering non-biomedical constructs. Critical Interventions in Aging, 11, 1623-1630. https://dx.doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S117202
Cosco, T. D., Prina, A. M., Perales, J., Stephan, B. C. M., & Brayne, C. (2013a). Lay perspectives of successful ageing: A systematic review and meta-ethnography. BMJ Open, 3(e002710). https://doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013-002710
Cosco, T. D., Prina, A. M., Perales, J., Stephan, B. C. M., & Brayne, C. (2013b). Operational definitions of successful aging: A systematic review. International Psychogeriatrics. http://doi:10.1017/S1041610213002287
Depp, C. A., & Jeste, D. V. (2006). Definitions and predictors of successful aging: A comprehensive review of larger quantitative studies. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 14(1), 6-20. https://doi.10.1097/01.JGP.0000192501.03069.bc
Evans, R. J. (2009). A comparison of rural and urban older adults in Iowa on specific markers of successful aging. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 52, 423-438. https://doi:10.1080/01634370802609197
Havighurst, R. J. (1961). Successful aging. Gerontologist, 1, 8-13. https://doi:10.1093/geront/1.1.8
Hsieh, H. F., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), 1277-1288. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732305276687
Katz, S., & Calasanti, T. (2015). Critical perspectives on successful aging: Does it “appeal more than it illuminates”? Gerontologist, 55, 26-33. https://doi:10.1093/geront/gnu027
Lincoln, Y. S., & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry (1st ed.). Sage.
Lune, H., & Berg, B. L. (2017). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (9th ed.). Pearson.
Martin, P., Kelly, N., Kahana, B., Kahana, E., Willcox, B. J., Willcox, D. C., & Poon, L. W. (2015). Defining successful aging: A tangible or elusive concept. Gerontologist, 55(1), 14-25. https://doi.10.1093/geront/gnu044
Martinson, M., & Berridge, C. (2015). Successful aging and its discontents: A systematic review of the social gerontology literature. Gerontologist, 55, 1, 58-69. https://doi.10.1093/geront/gnu037
Michel, J., & Sadana, R. (2017). “Healthy aging” concepts and measures. Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, 18, 460-464. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jamda.2017.03.008
Pew Research Center. (2016, July 11). Turkers in this canvassing: Young, well-educated and frequent users. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2016/07/11/turkers-in-this-canvassing-young-well-educated-and-frequent-users/
Pruchno, R. A., Wilson-Genderson, M., Rose, M., & Cartwright, F. (2010). Successful aging: Early influences and contemporary characteristics. Gerontologist, 50(6), 821-833. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/gnq041
Reichstadt, J., Sengupta, G., Depp, C. A., Palinkas, L. A., & Jeste, D. V. (2010). Older adults’ perspectives on successful aging: Qualitative interviews. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 18(7), 567-575. https://doi.org/10.1097/jgp.0b013e3181e040bb
Rowe, J. W. (1997). The new gerontology. Science, 278(5337), 367. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.278.5337.367
Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (1987). Human aging: Usual and successful. Science, 237, 143-149. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.3299702
Rowe, J., W., & Kahn, R. L. (1997). Successful aging. Gerontologist, 37, 433-440. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/37.4.433
Rowe, J. W., & Kahn, R. L. (1998). Successful aging. Random House.
Sen, A. (1987). The standard of living. Cambridge University Press.
Stephens, C. (2016). From success to capability for healthy ageing: Shifting the lens to include all older people. Critical Public Health, 4, 490-498. https://doi.org/10.1080/09581596.2016.1192583
Stephens, C., Breheny, M., & Mansvelt, J. (2015). Healthy ageing from the perspective of older people: A capability approach to resilience. Psychology & Health, 30, 715-731. https://doi.org/10.1080/08870446.2014.904862
Teater, B., & Chonody, J. (2017). Promoting Actively Aging: Advancing a framework for social work practice with older adults. Families in Society, 98(2), 137-145. https://doi.org/10.1606/1044-3894.2017.98.19
Teater, B., & Chonody, J. (2019). How do older adults define successful aging?: A scoping review. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development [online first]. https://doi.org/10.1177/0091415019871207
Teater, B., & Chonody, J. (2020). What attributes of successful aging are important to older adults? The development of a multidimensional definition of successful aging. Social Work in Healthcare, 59(3), 161-179. https://doi.org/10.1080/00981389.2020.1731049
World Health Organization [WHO]. (2002). Active ageing: A policy framework. https://www.who.int/ageing/publications/active_ageing/en/
WHO. (2007). Global age-friendly cities: A guide. https://www.who.int/ageing/age_friendly_cities_guide/en/