Although there has been increasing interest in “successful aging,” little consensus exists on what constitutes successful aging, and successful aging definitions have been criticized for not representing older adults’ perspectives. A recent study examined whether one potentially promising model of successful aging captured older adults’ perceptions of their own health and aging.
The model of successful aging chosen by the authors (the Rowe-Kahn model) measured these dimensions of aging: absence of disease/ disability, good physical/cognitive functioning, and good interpersonal/productive social engagement. For older adults’ perspectives, self-rated health, how they rated their health for their age, satisfaction with their health, and overall life satisfaction were measured.
The analysis revealed associations between each of the successful aging dimensions and self-rated health and life satisfaction. Similarly, as the number of successful aging factors on which an older adult scored positively increased, so did the likelihood of the participants’ rating their health and life satisfaction higher.
On the other hand, participants generally reported good self-rated health and life satisfaction, despite very few scoring positive on all dimensions. Eighty-one percent reported being satisfied with their health, and 89 percent reported being happy with their life. So to define successful aging as scoring positively on all six dimensions seems too restrictive a definition of successful aging. Instead, the researchers suggest that successful aging might be better thought of as a continuum.
It also seems that from the perspective of older adults, there are factors unrelated to this model of successful aging that factor into positive life satisfaction, and even self-rated health. Among those who scored positively on zero of the successful aging dimensions, almost half reported being satisfied with their health, and almost two-thirds were satisfied with their lives in general.
The researchers still suggest that the Rowe Kahn model of successful aging remains useful “with a view to informing public health and economic policy and to identifying opportunities and interventions to improve [successful aging].” On the other hand, this study also reveals the importance of not overlooking the perspectives of older adults, and of determining what other factors contribute to their positive life satisfaction.
Whitley E, Popham F, and Benzeval M. Comparison of the Rowe–Kahn Model of Successful Aging with self-rated health and life satisfaction: The West of Scotland Twenty-07 Prospective Cohort Study. The Gerontologist gnv054 ((2016). DOI:10.1093/geront/gnv054