Some Thoughts About Successful Aging
by Susan Freiband
Dr. Louise Aronson in her book, Elderhood, Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimaging Life (Bloomsbury, 2019), presents several ideas about successful aging. She cites a 1997 MacArthur Foundation study of successful aging which identifies three key ingredients for a high quality of life in old age: maintaining (via healthy behavior) a low risk for disease, maintaining a high level of community engagement, and high physical and cognitive function. She notes that different people use the term “successful aging” to mean different things. For example, for health professionals and researchers successful aging means the absence of disease, maintenance of physical and cognitive function, and full engagement with life. For psychologists and social scientists, it has more to do with life satisfaction, social functioning and psychological resilience. For many older adults, this concept means independence, spirituality, comfort, coping, meaningful relationships and contributions to society (purpose).
The issue of control of one’s own life and schedule, enjoying familiar objects and rhythms of home, is another aspect of successful aging. Cross generational interaction, living in communities of people of all ages, which leads to relationships that inspire learning, ingenuity, love and creativity, is yet another important perspective.
According to the anthropologist, Margaret Clark, aging is an “ongoing process of simultaneous adaptation, not only to one’s changing body, but equally to ones specific social and cultural situations”. In her work with older adults, Clark identified these personal goals of old age: having independence, social adaptability, adequate personal resources, ability to cope with external threats of change, as well as maintaining significant meaningful goals and the ability to cope with changes in self. Successful aging involves the process of achieving these goals. It is a continual process of revising and adapting behavior, expectations and self image.