It’s More Than Physical Health: Successful Aging across Cultures

Traditional North American models of successful aging often focus primarily on physical and cognitive health maintenance in later years. A recent Brazilian study investigated how meanings attached to the concept of successful aging may differ across countries and cultures.

Participants in this cross-sectional study included 534 people age 60 and better. The research was conducted in the city of Sao Joao Del-Rei, Brazil, between May 2017 and August 2018. Community health workers (CHWs), who worked closely with users of the city’s public primary care service, assisted with data collection. The authors predicted that non-physical dimensions of aging such as social, behavioral, psychological, environmental, and spiritual factors were more strongly associated with successful aging than physical factors such as avoiding disease and disability through regular exercise and proper nutrition.

The Successful Aging Scale (SAS) was used to measure both biomedical and psychosocial domains of the aging process. Sociodemographic factors like age, gender, marital status, education, and monthly income, physical, cognitive, and psychological functioning, lifestyle factors, social engagement, attitudes and beliefs towards life, coping, and quality of life were also used. The authors found that a higher score on the SAS was related to greater resilience—the ability to adapt to adversity or changes in one’s life. Further, enhanced spiritual well-being, better quality of life, greater social engagement, and lesser loneliness were also associated with successful aging. These results imply that although physical factors were important, for community-dwelling Brazilian older adults, resilience, meaning and significance of life, loneliness, social ties, and religiosity were the main components of successful aging.

Although limited in scope, this study provides a better understanding of how aging well may be conceptualized across cultures as a multidimensional construct incorporating diverse elements like resilience and coping, faith and spirituality, search for meaning and purpose in life, and the strength and quality of social relationships. Future research could explore each dimension individually in order to gain a more holistic perspective on successful aging in different cultures.


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SOURCE: Salamene, L. C., Martins, E. L. M., Lucchetti, G., & Lucchetti, A. L. G. (2021). Factors associated with successful aging in Brazilian community-dwelling older adults: When physical health is not enough. Geriatric Nursing 42(2):372-378.

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