Achieving Eldership: Alaska Native Elders Share Stories of Aging Well

In recent years, health and aging researchers have increasingly turned to the theory of gerotranscendence to understand aspects of positive aging and developmental shifts in old age. According to this theory, a person acquires a new, more holistic understanding of the self and a less materialistic and pragmatic worldview that is often increasingly spiritual or metaphysical. Previous research has established a strong, positive association between gerotranscendence and overall life satisfaction in older adults. A recent study examined characteristics of gerotranscendence in Alaska Native (AN) elders.

Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 29 AN elders in two regions of Alaska (Aleutian Pribilof Islands and the Norton Sound Southern sub-region). Interview questions centered around the meanings attached to aging, how AN elders defined successful aging, the nature of support they received from the community, and facilitators to aging well. Thematic analysis of the interview data showed that participants who adapted well to age-related changes and embraced their role as a community elder experienced gerotranscendence. In other words, they acquired a less materialistic and more cosmic perspective on life, prioritized self-reflection, and intentionally took on the role of teaching and sharing their accumulated life experiences with community members. They also shared stories that emphasized cultural traditions and values and felt a stronger connection to the land, increased enjoyment of daily activities, and greater life satisfaction.

Given the paucity of research in this area, this study makes an important contribution to a cross-cultural understanding of gerotranscendence and the contextual meanings attached to aging well among Alaska Native elders. It also underscores the power of storytelling as an effective and authentic research tool that offers a glimpse into the unique everyday experiences of previously unheard voices in research.


Want to keep up with recent research that’s relevant to aging services? Use the form below to subscribe to our monthly InvestigAge email.



Wortman ES, Lewis JP. Gerotranscendence and Alaska Native Successful Aging in the Aleutian Pribilof Islands, Alaska. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology.2021;36(1):43-67. DOI:


Self-Fulfilling ProphecyHow Perceptions of Aging Affect Our Later Years

Learn how older adults’ perceptions of aging—and their self-perceptions—can have serious effects on their health, behaviors, and even longevity.

Download FREE Copy

    Add insight to your inbox

    Join our email list to receive information about the latest research from Mather Institute. Just complete the form below to subscribe.

    Thank you!

    You are now subscribed to the email list.
    A confirmation has been sent to the email you provided.

    Continue to Website Share with a Friend