How do researchers define “successful ageing”?


Researchers have many different definitions for “successful ageing”.

Why is this important?

The ways that researchers think about ageing can effect the way their results are reported and how relevant their findings are to older adults.

What was done?

A review of every academic article published on successful ageing was conducted. Researchers looked at the different definitions that different research groups used to define successful ageing.

What was found?

Many different definitions (105)  of successful ageing exist with no agreed upon definitions. These definitions focused on physical functioning, e.g. having an illness, and cognitive functioning, e.g. how well participants scored on a mental ability test.

Article Abstract

Background: Half a century after the inception of the term “successful aging (SA),” a consensus definition has not emerged. The current study aims to provide a comprehensive snapshot of operational definitions of SA. Methods: A systematic review across MedLine, PsycInfo, CINAHL, EMBASE, and ISI Web of Knowledge of quantitative operational definitions of SA was conducted.
Results: Of the 105 operational definitions, across 84 included studies using unique models, 92.4% (97) included physiological constructs (e.g. physical functioning), 49.5% (52) engagement constructs (e.g. involvement in voluntary work), 48.6% (51) well-being constructs (e.g. life satisfaction), 25.7% (27) personal resources (e.g. resilience), and 5.7% (6) extrinsic factors (e.g. finances). Thirty-four definitions consisted of a single construct, 28 of two constructs, 27 of three constructs, 13 of four constructs, and two of five constructs. The operational definitions utilized in the included studies identify between <1% and >90% of
study participants as successfully aging.
Conclusions: The heterogeneity of these results strongly suggests the multidimensionality of SA and the difficulty in categorizing usual versus successful aging. Although the majority of operationalizations reveal
a biomedical focus, studies increasingly use psychosocial and lay components. Lack of consistency in the definition of SA is a fundamental weakness of SA research.

Key words: successful aging, healthy aging, systematic review, operational definition

Article Citation

Cosco, T.D., Prina, A.M., Perales, J., Stephan, B., Brayne, C. (2013) Operational definitions of successful aging: A systematic review. International Psychogeriatrics. 26(3): 373-381.

Link to Full Article

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